Backyard Buddies
Illawarra Flame Tree

Photo: Bidgee

Illawarra Flame Tree

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The Illawarra Flame Tree, or Currajong, grows in the wild from the Illawarra area of southern coastal New South Wales north into Queensland.

It grows up to 35 m in the wild but only about 10m in gardens. The bright red bell-shaped flowers grow in clusters at the end of branches, often after the leaves have dropped, giving the plant a distinctive look. It is a deciduous tree that is often found growing alongside the Red Cedar in lowland rainforest habitat.

A few months after the jettisoning of the leaves, the tree produces masses of bell-shaped vivid scarlet flowers. They do not always flower annually and put on their best display maybe only once every five years, especially after a hot dry summer. In between these times, they may only produce one or two branches of flowers on the whole tree.

It produces a tough leathery dark-brown seed pod, containing rows of corn-like seeds that are surrounded by hairs that will irritate the skin and nose and throat if inhaled. They are toxic to many native animals and birds.

A great place to spot a flame tree is from one of the lookouts around the Springbrook area in south-east Queensland during summer. As you look across the valley, you can easily pick a brilliant red splotch from the deep green rainforest surrounding it.

These trees support and feed a wide range of native animals. The branches offer a safe roosting place for canopy dwelling birds such as the White Headed Pigeon.

Flame tree leaves also feed the caterpillars of some native butterflies, including the Pencilled Blue, Helenita Blue, Common Aeroplane and Tailed Emperor Butterflies.

In turn, insectivorous birds feed off these caterpillars. Planting a few flame trees in your garden will provide habitat for these animals.

Tip

Once flowering has finished, the tree produces large black boat-shaped pods stuffed with hairy seeds. Wear gloves if handling them.

Related Factsheets:

Sheoak

Sheoaks are very unusual plants because they have separate male and female plants. Each year the males will turn a dusky red colour as they release their pollen. The female trees have small red flowers and lots of seed cones. The sheoak doesn’t have big leaves, instead they have branchlets ..

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