Arbor Day 2022, Brachychiton acerifolium, Illawarra Flame Trees

By Heid Bornhorst

Heidibornhorst.blog

After three years of lockdown, we are finally, Happily, able to celebrate Arbor Day in Kapi`olani Park once again.

On Saturday November 19, 2022, we will gather with ScenicHawaii, Inc., Kapi`olani Park Preservation society, some Dedicated City tree workers and Arborists, Volunteers, and all of us who love and cherish trees and our Park.

We will be planting and ceremonially mulching four new trees courtesy of the Division of UrbanForestry led by Certified Arborist Brandon Au and DUF/ City and County of Honolulu Parksdepartment.

Citizen Forester Emily Perry will be representing our busy parks director Laura Thielen.

The trees are drought tolerant and are native to coastal subtropical forests of Australia.

The common name is FLAME Tree, or Illawarra Flame tree. Also called the lacebark tree.

One thing our mentor Paul Weissich, Director Emeritus of the Honolulu BotanicalGardens taught us, is to look beyond flowers when you view trees.

What does the bark look like? How is the truck shaped? What is the growth pattern? What kind of shade pattern does it adorn the ground with? What are the leaves like? Are they good for mulch and soil nurturing? For Keiki art projects?

As we Arborists say, “Touch trees”. Place your hand on the trunk and look UP! What do you see, in the Tree Canopy? I love doing this with keiki of all ages!

When we plant a tree, we are investing in, and finding out about the future. This small tree, grown from a tiny seed and planted today. What will it grow into in the Future?

We can read about the size and growth habits in a book, but how big will it really get here in Hawaii? Will it grow big and strong with proper nurturing and akami tree maintenance?

Will it withstand the abuse that trees sometimes take in public park spaces? Will most people be happy and respect the growing young trees? We sure hope so! Trees ensure a healthy, happy future for all of us.

Known in Scientific Latin as Brachychitonacerifolium, the Illawarra Flame trees are in the Sterculiaceae plant family.

We don’t have many of these trees in Hawaii.  A few grow at Foster and Ho’omaluhia Botanical gardens. These were grown from seed by the Horticulturist and Plant propagators at Foster Botanical Garden.

They are particularly striking when in bloom,with bright red orange or scarlet flowers. The flowers look like a hanging red bell when viewed from the side. If you look directly at them, they look like stars.

The leaves are shaped like a kukui leaf, or a mainland maple tree leaf.  This is what the species name acerifolium means.  Acer is the Latin name for Maple, and folium as you might guess is referring to the foliage or leaves, maple shaped leaves.

The trees will grow up and into a pyramid shapewith a tall, greenish grey, smooth round shapedtrunk. In time they can grow up to about 100feet tall (30 – 35 meters). They are a popular street tree in Australia and around the subtropical world.

The seeds of Brachychiton species are edible. But like many plants in the sterculia family they have irritating hairs, which must be removed or carefully removed to get to the edible seeds. Native Australians ate them raw or roasted. They are nutritious, containing 18% protein and 25% fat with high levels of zinc and magnesium.

There are uses for this tree in its native Australia. Fiber is made from the bark and a kind of gum can be extracted. The wood is soft but dries hard. Shingles, among other things, are made from the wood. The roots of young trees are edible, but let’s not do this in our park!

A related tree, Brachychiton rupestris is called the bottle tree.  It grows a big fat water retaining trunk over time, somewhat like the Baobab tree from Africa.

Mahalo to Wikipedia for some of this info, I also referred to our old standard book: In Gardens of Hawaii, by Marie C. Neal.

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