Continuing the series on native bird-attracting trees …If I was asked to name one tree that symbolised Australia to me it would be a toss up between the Red Flowering Gum Corymbia ficifolia & the Wattle Acacia. I can think of many other trees that are also quintessential Australian like the Waratah & the Banksia. However, for the purpose of this post I am going to stick with the Red Flowering Gum. The Wattle can wait for later.
I didn’t actually see a Red Flowering Gum until about 10 years ago. This is probably because they are native to Western Australian & as I understand it, they had difficulty surviving on the east coast, or at least in Sydney. The first Red Flowering Gum I saw was a smallish tree with many trunks growing in a neighbour’s front garden.
The next Red Flowering Gum I saw were a line of mature street trees along President Avenue Kogarah. They were quite different in that they were much taller (7 metres at least) & had a single reasonably thick trunk. They were in full bloom & each tree was festooned in clumps of vivid red flowers. I fell instantly in love.
Around 5 years later, whist going for a walk, I came across a fantastic street tree, also mature, that was covered with spectacular red flowers. One of the residents came out & said the tree was a Red Flowering Gum planted by
the owner of the house in front of which we were. They too loved this tree & thought the neighbourhood was lucky to have it. The camera got a work out that day.
Since then I have been on the look out for these trees at nurseries. It was not a purposeful search & perhaps they were around, but it was only 2 years ago when we came across some for sale. We didn’t hesitate buying one. This year the nurseries are full of them & they are all grafted varieties to make sure they grow well in NSW.
There are bright red, pink, even hot pink flowering species on offer. Some grow like my neighbour’s into a small shrub-like tree with thin trunks that grow from near the base. Others grow from 6, 10 & 15 metres & the descriptions say they are suitable for use as a street tree because they have a straight growing trunk & a controllable canopy that tends to grow into a round-shape.
So why would you plant one? I think there are many reasons: birds love these flowers. Before I planted our tree I moved the pot & the flowers spilled a considerable amount of sticky nectar on my hands. I think it would be considered good bush tucker because the nectar was sweet & would make a nice drink. Don’t suck the flowers before making sure there isn’t a bee inside because bees love them as well.
Red Flowering Gums were called Eucalyptus ficifolia until the 1990s when it was changed to Corymbia ficifolia. They flower from spring through summer. The flowers also range in size & can be as large as a 20 cent piece. Once the tree has finished flowering clusters of urn-shaped gum nuts remain. These are also good food for bigger birds. Plant specialists say it takes 7 years before the tree flowers, but ours did in its first year. Others say that the tree flowers in one part of its canopy & in another the following year. Many of the saplings we saw at the nursery had a flower or tow allowing you to make sure it is the colour you want. I suspect this early flowering is the result of grafting, but this is just a guess.
The flowers are exquisite & the cup of each flower is a beautiful strong yellow. The leaves are lance-shaped & can be quite long. They also change colour during autumn, though the tree doesn’t drop many leaves. The branches grow a lovely rusty-red colour adding more beauty to this tree. This tree appears to be ever changing throughout the seasons.
It’s also a terrific shade tree & copes with heavy pruning. I don’t think it will be too long before other dry weather countries start growing this tree because it is showy & easy to manage.
There is a new variety called Mini Gum that grows 2 metres high & 2 metres wide. It too has showy fire engine red flowers that develop into gum nuts & often has a repeat flower in autumn. It would probably cope in a pot, as long as it doesn’t become water logged & is planted in a part sandy soil. Like many natives, this tree doesn’t particularly like wet, rich soils & thrives in infertile soil.
It would be perfect for lining the railway lines around Sydney & could be interspersed with Grevilleas. I have heard that Marrickville Council has planted some as street trees somewhere in Dulwich Hill, which is a great decision.
So, if you want a good bird-attracting flowering tree, which doesn’t make ‘widow-makers,’ give the Red Flowing Gum consideration. I doubt you will regret planting one.