Brachychiton acerifolius

flame tree in flower


Brachychiton acerifolius

(A.Cumm. ex G.Don) F.Muell. 1858

pronounced: brak-ee-KY-ton ack-ur-ih-FOH-lee-uss

(Malvaceae — the hibiscus family)


common names: flame tree, Illawarra flame tree

native 4This is a small to medium sized deciduous tree native to tropical and sub-tropical coastal rainforest on the east coast of Australia. It may reach 30-35 m in height, although it is usually smaller in cultivation. It is famous for the bright red bell-shaped flowers that often colour the whole tree when it is leafless.

Brachychiton comes from two Greek words βραχυς (brachus), short and χιτων (chiton), a tunic, a reference to the coating on the seed; acerifolius comes from two Latin words, acer, the maple tree, and folium, a leaf – having leaves like the maple tree.

The bark of the tree is grey and fissured. The leaves are attractive: they are up to 25 cm long, glossy, and may have entire margins, or up to 7 lobes.
The tree is generally deciduous before flowers are seen in the early summer; but the deciduous nature of the tree is variable: in some seasons foliage will be retained on all or part of the tree. In a “good year” this is probably the most spectacular of the Australian native trees.

The flowers are bright coral red bells with 5 partly fused petals, have a waxy surface, and occur in large panicles at the ends of the branches. The pod-like fruits (follicles) are dark brown, wide, boat-shaped, and about 10 cm long, on stalks up to 8 cm long. They contain masses of thin bristles that stick in the skin, as well as yellow seeds. The seeds are nutritious, and were eaten by the Aborigines after toasting.

The timber is soft, coarse and open-textured, and dresses well. It is reported that shingles were made from it in pioneering days. It is now sometimes used to make mouldings, and artifacts for the tourist trade.

dangerous 2Flowering may take up to 8 years when the tree is grown from seed. Propagation from seed is relatively easy, but care should be taken when collecting the seeds, because of the irritant bristles mentioned above – gloves are recommended. A nose/mouth mask is also not a bad idea, as the hairs are easily inhaled. Grafting is also relatively easy, and by using scions of mature material from good flowering forms, plants will flower much earlier than those grown from seed. Seedlings of Brachychiton acerifolius, Brachychiton populneus and Brachychiton discolor have been successfully used as grafting stock.

In southern Queensland I have seen Flame Trees planted in conjunction with Jacarandas, and this is a wonderful combination, as both trees are deciduous and both flower at the same time of the year.

The flame tree is fairly tolerant of temperate climates, and is now cultivated in many parts of the world for its beauty. It is a popular street tree.

There are quite a few of these trees in gardens and nature strips on Magnetic Island.

Brachychiton acerifoliusis very attractive to insect-eating birds, and to butterflies. The caterpillars of these Lepidoptera are among those that use it as a food plant:
      o the Yellow Peach Moth Conogethes punctiferalis;
      o the Hairy Lineblue Erysichton lineata;
      o the Kurrajong Bag Moth Dichocrosis clytusalis, and
      o the Helenita Blue Candalides helenita.

Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2012, 2014
Page last updated 22nd October 2018