Throughout December some of the most extraordinary plants in our living collection are flowering, fruiting and even signalling the arrival of Christmas.
Dinner Plate Fig - Ficus dammoropsis
In the middle of our Tropical Garden you will find a large shrub with enormous pleated leaves. This is the Dinner Plate Fig, native to New Guinea where it grows in the highlands between 800 and 2750 metres. It has the largest leaves of any fig tree. Leaves are used for wrapping suckling pigs before cooking in a fire pit. The fruit is large but does not develop viable seeds in our garden as the tiny wasp that this species requires for pollination does not occur in Australia.
Old Man Banksia,Wiriyagan (Cadigal) - Banksia serrata
Easy to identify due to its bubbly bark, serrated leaves and large cream coloured inflorescences comprising hundreds of individual flowers. Native to the Australian east coast from southern Queensland to Northern Tasmania, this was one of the species collected by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander at Botany Bay in 1770. Flowers produce nectar attracting small mammals at night and birds and bees during the day. Plants regenerate after fire from dormant buds under the thick bark, lignotubers below the ground or seed that germinates after fire.
Snake Lily - Amorphophallus bulbifer
This herbaceous plant from the Aroid family (Araceae) is native to India and Burma. Each underground tuber produces a single leaf consisting of a mottled vertical stem and horizontal blade. Mature plants produce an inflorescence consisting of a spikelike spadix containing the flowers surrounded by a pink hood-like spathe. As female flowers mature, they release a foul "rotten egg" smell, to attract flies and beetles who are responsible for pollination resulting in bright red seeds.
Cook Pine - Araucaria columnaris
This southern hemisphere conifer from New Caledonia is presently covered in male cones at the tips of the branches with some starting to mature and turn brown. Female cones are larger, egg-shaped and occur higher up making them hard to see. When grown outside New Caledonia the whole tree, from base to crown, leans towards the equator, making them unique amongst woody plants. The further away from the equator the larger the lean.
Imperial Bromeliad - Alcantarea imperialis varieties
This striking bromeliad is native to the rocky slopes of the Serra dos Orgaos mountain range of eastern Brazil where they grow on rocky outcrops, often on vertical cliff faces. The formation of water tanks in the leaves not only provides nutrients to the plant itself, but a micro-ecosystem that supports a diverse number of insects, amphibians, and plants. Flowering occurs after 18 – 20 years with hundreds of flowers on a candelabra-like inflorescence up to 2 metres tall. Plants die after flowering.
Coolamon, Rose Apple - Syzygium moorei
This rainforest tree from the border ranges of north eastern NSW and southern Queensland is now rare in the wild due to extensive land clearing. Like many rainforest trees, flowers appear directly from the trunk (called cauliflory) and from larger stems (called ramiflory). The flowers are watermelon pink and attract Rainbow Lorikeets that seem to take over the tree when in full bloom. Flowers are followed by large, white edible fruits, similar to but much larger than other Lilly Pillies.
Norfolk Island Hibiscus - Lagunaria patersonia
This species is endemic to Norfolk Island and Lord Howe Island and tolerates salt laden coastal winds. The hibiscus shaped flowers are usually pink or mauve and are followed by brown capsules containing black seeds. The seed capsules contain white fibres which can be irritating to the skin, hence one of the trees common names – Itch Tree. In summer this tree is host to the brightly coloured Cotton Harlequin bugs that come to feed on the young shots.
Christmas Bush - Ceratopetalum gummiferum
There is no better sign that Christmas is just around the corner than when the NSW Christmas Bush turns red. A small tree native to the coastal regions of NSW where it grows on sandstone. They are popular in cultivation, especially early flowering varieties such as Albery’s Red. Masses of small white flowers appear in late Spring, but the red display appears when the flowers die and the persistent sepals around the seed capsules enlarge and turn red.
Why not join a Guided Walk of the Garden with one of our knowledgeable Volunteer Guides, on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Find out more here.