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Our Red Flowering Gum - flowering at 6 months

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

Hot-Pink Flowering Gum

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.

Gum nuts from our Red Flowering Gum

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.

Bee feasting on flower nectar

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.

Marrickville Council has posted their intention to remove 8 trees from around the Dibble Avenue Waterhole Marrickville because they are non-native & regarded as environmental weed tree species.  They are:

  • Camphor Laurel (Cinnamomum camphora) x 2
  • Willow (Salix babylonica) x 2
  • Chinese Tallow Tree (Sapium sebiferum)  x 1
  • African Olive (Olea europea)  x 1
  • Mulberry (Morus nigra) x 2

Council’s tree removal notification says: The Dibble Avenue Waterhole  Vegetation Management Plan recommends the removal of these environmental weed tree species to facilitate the establishment of native vegetation & the control of weeds within the waterhole. All existing native trees are to be retained. A planting program including appropriate native tree species will proceed in June 2010 following the tree removal.  Tree works will be undertaken after 1 June 2010.

I presume the deadline for submissions is 1st June 2010, though there is no mention of submissions from the community.

The following is brief information about these tree species.

CHINESE TALLOW TREE – Native to southern China, deciduous tree. height of 8m. Orange, red, purple & yellow autumn foliage. Clusters of greenish yellow & white flower spikes November/December.  It is used as a major honey plant for bee-keepers. The fruit ripens in autumn. Birds love the fruit & disperse the seeds. Regarded as good street tree or small tree for the home garden. Costs up to $700 for an advanced 200 litre tree 2.5m tall.

WILLOW – originally native to northern China. Medium to large deciduous tree up to 20-25 mt. It has a short lifespan & flowers in spring.  In my research, I could not find mention of birds dispersing seeds.

Camphor laurel on the boundary

CAMPHOR LAUREL – large evergreen tree up to 20–30 mts. Produces masses of small white flowers which develop into black berry-like fruit around 1 cm diameter. The seeds are attractive food to birds who disperse them. Introduced to Australia in 1822 as an ornamental tree & now regarded as a weed in QLD & northern NSW. Noted for growing hollows early in its life whereas natives can take hundreds of years to develop hollows.  It has a large root system that can disrupt foundations, drains & sewerage systems.

MULBERRY – small deciduous tree to 10-13 mtrs, native to southwestern Asia. It produces edible dark purple, almost black, fruit 2–3 cms long often made into jams & deserts. Good food for birds who disperse the seeds. Both trees are near units so presumably would have been planted as a food source.

The gate at Dibble Street Waterhole. The old sign speaks volumes.

AFRICAN OLIVE – Small evergreen tree 2-15m. Produces edible black fruit pickled as olives.  Grown as a crop in Australia.  The birds eat & disperse the seeds. Planted near the units so presumably would have been planted as a food source.

Despite living in the area for nearly 15 years, we have never been to the Dibble Avenue Waterhole.  I had been told it was a gorgeous place & should go for a picnic.  This has always been the plan so with some excitement I went to visit yesterday armed with my map courtesy of Marrickville Council.  photo-dibble-water-hole The map showed a lot of trees & I hoped I would be able to spot the ones to be removed as I walked around.  The map, past conversations about the place & my own imagination made what I actually saw when I arrived quite a shock.

Dibble Avenue Waterhole

Far from being a place of beauty, The Dibble Avenue Waterhole is a sad, forlorn place.  Much of the vegetation is dead including the Willow tree.  I walked through a small boggy park with a few old style play equipment to be faced with a tall fence topped with barbed wire.  No entry for the public here.  Just inside the fence is a pier that appears to be rotten. Stacked on that was a mass of dead vegetation.  Beyond was the waterhole itself.

It was a still pool covered with what appeared to be blue-green algae. I would think that storm water travels to the waterhole & if I am correct, it demonstrates how animal poo, fertilizer & other pollutants can affect water as the algae is at epidemic proportions. I doubt the water has much oxygen in it.  A few ducks paddled their way through the algae.

Looking through the fence, past the pier to the actual pond.

The banks are steep & it looks as though the area has been sprayed with weed killer as almost everything is dead.  Houses & 3 storey unit blocks surround the waterhole.

It has the potential to be a slice of heaven in the Inner West as it is also next to the golf course & the Cooks River. If it were fixed, surrounding property values would soar.  Never mind the mosquitos here. A bird sanctuary & water on your doorstep!

I had to find the trees from my vantage place in the park.  I could see 1 dead Willow, but the other was out of view. The Olive & the 2 Mulberry trees were very close to the unit block & appeared small. The Chinese Tallow was in amongst a group of trees & I couldn’t isolate it. I could see only 1 of the Camphor laurel trees & that one was located right next to the back fence of a house next to the park.  That tree’s canopy cascades over their house, so they may be pleased to get sunlight once it is removed. Then again, judging by the massive tree they have in another section of their back garden, they may not be happy to see the tree removed at all.

Plaque from NSW State Government saying the waterhole is on the Historic Trail

My opinion is that Marrickville Council is doing a good thing to replant  this waterhole as it is in dire need of help.  It has the potential to be fantastic & it offers sanctuary for wild birds, frogs & other insects & animals. Planting natives will ensure they have abundant food, homes & places to roost. It is also on the NSW Historical Trail so we have responsibility to keep it in the best condition possible.  I will watch the progress of the Dibble Avenue Waterhole with interest.

View of dead Willow & the 2 Mulberry trees & 1 Olive



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