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Grevillea pteridifolia Knight 1809
pronounced: grev-ILL-ee-uh ter-id-ee-FOH-lee-uh
(Proteacrae – the waratah family)
common name: Golden Grevillea, Fern-leaf Grevillea
Grevillea is named for Charles Francis Greville (1749–1809), a close friend of Sir Joseph Banks, and one of the founders of the Royal Horticultural Society; pteridifolia is from the Greek πτερις (pteris), a feather – and their name for a fern with feather-like foliage - and the Latin folium, a leaf.
The beautiful tree pictured is growing in a vacant block in Kelly Street, Nelly Bay. The species is endemic to Australia, occurring in Western Australia, the Northern Territory, Cape York peninsula, north-east Queensland, and southwards as far as coastal central Queensland. It grows at altitudes from sea level to about 800 m, usually in open forest but sometimes on the margins of monsoon forest and vine thickets. It is uncommon on Magnetic Island, but quite common in Townsville, and there are many patches of it growing by the roadside on the coastal highway north of Townsville. This plant is one of those collected in 1770 by Banks and Solander during the voyage of the Endeavour. It was collected at the Endeavour River (Cooktown), and at Lookout Point.
It is a beautiful open shrub or small tree with fine foliage and large spikes of flowers that are very attractive to birds, and it has been used in producing many of the popular Grevillea hybrids. It usually grows to between 5 and 8 m high, with a spread of about 3 m. It prefers acid to neutral soils, and will withstand seasonal inundation. In exposed areas it is liable to be subject to wind damage, and it is fairly prone to borer damage. In the Northern Territory it is often found as a robust tree, but in Queensland it is usually smaller. There is also a prostrate form, found in several locations on the eastern side of Cape York Peninsula. In Kakadu National Park is silver-leafed form is found.
The bark is hard, dark and furrowed. The alternate leaves are indeed fernlike, up to about 25 cm long, pinnately divided into many narrow spreading segments, the margins conspicuously recurved; they are a greyish green in colour, the new growth covered with silvery hairs.
The flowers are generally orange, but sometimes golden to yellow. They are densely crowded on one side of a raceme that can be anything up to 15 cm long. The flowers point upwards. They produce large quantities of nectar, which explains their popularity with birds and animals.
In the Northern Territory the indiginous inhabitants make a sweet drink from the nectar, either taken directly from the flowers, or made by soaking the flowers in water. They also use the straight trunks for spear shafts. Any small bends in the shaft are straightened by heating the wood over fire and bending it in the opposite direction.
Propagation can be from seed, as fresh as possible and with the seed coat nicked to expose the embryo slightly. The tree will also grow from cuttings, but these may be slow to strike.
Photographs taken at Nelly Bay 2010
Page last updated 9th December 2016