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No. 227: Brachychiton acerifolius


The Flame-Tree.


Botanical description.

— Genus, Brachychiton Schott and Endlicher Melet. bot. 34 (1832). See also R. Brown by J. J. Bennett in Horsefield's Plantæ Javanicæ Rariores, p. 234.

Following is a translation of the original:—

Calyx 5-fid. Anthers congested. Styles cohering. Stigmas distinct or joined together as a peltate one. Follicles coriaceous, woody, polyspermous. Seeds albuminous, covered with stellate hairs, cohering to one another and to the bottom of the follicle. The radicle of the embryo next to the hilum. Trees (of New Holland) with lobed or undivided leaves.

Botanical description.

— Species, B. acerifolius F.v.M. Fragmenta i, 1 (1858).

A large timber tree, quite glabrous.

Leaves on long petioles, deeply 5- or 7- lobed; lobes oblong-lanceolate or almost rhomboid, occasionally deeply sinuate, the whole leaf often 8 or 10 inches diameter, thin but shining, and glabrous on both sides.

Flowers of a rich red (scarlet), in loose axillary racemes or small panicles of 2 to 3 inches.

Calyx broadly campanulate, 3/4 inch long, quite glabrous, with short broad lobes, valvate in the bud.

Ovary raised on a short column, quite glabrous, the carpels quite distinct, and the styles scarcely cohering at the broad radiating stigmas.

Follicles large, on long stalks, quite glabrous. (B. Fl. i, 229, as Sterculia.)

Botanical Name.

— Brachychiton, from the Greek, Brachus short, chiton of mail, in allusion to the short bristles, and was given to denote the genus, chiefly distinguished by the seeds having a loose outer coating covered with hairs, which, in some species, are so adhesive that the seeds fall out in their inner coat only, leaving the outer coat adhering to the equally hairy endocarp, with the appearance of the cells of a bee-hive. The appearance of "mail" is more far-fetched. Acerifolia, from the Latin Acer, a Maple-tree, refers to the shape of the leaves, and in some old books, in which an attempt is made to invent vernaculars, we find the Flame-tree referred to as "The Maple-leaved Sterculia."

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Vernacular Name.

— The term "Flame-tree" refers to the abundance of the fiery red blossoms which give the tree, when in full flower, the appearance of being on fire. The precise colour of the flower is brilliant scarlet.

A large Flame-tree in full bloom is a noble and gorgeous sight, and is calculated to impress the most phlegmatic person with the beauty of our flora. In its native habitats it is best looked upon from an eminence, and the contrast between the flamelooking mass of a comparatively large tree and the more or less, sombre foliage of all other trees never fails to arrest attention. It is a brush tree, and in the bush it always has fairly good conditions, including plenty of shelter. Under cultivation. it is very often the case that it lacks one of the essentials of good soil, moisture or shelter, and hence instead of being in flower in one mass, before a single leaf unfolds, it may flower in patches, with more or less foliage, giving the tree a bizarre, and not so fully ornamental an appearance as when the whole shapely tree is ablaze, to be succeeded by the palegreen, also beautiful foliage.

Aboriginal Name.

— The late Sir William Macarthur quoted the name "Couramyn" (N.S.W. Cat. Paris Exhib., 1855), as in use in the Illawarra. It is to be noted that the same name was applied to the Kurrajong, so it probably refers to the fibrous bark. In the N.S.W. Cat. Paris Exhib, 1862, "Weery Wegne" is quoted by him as in use by the aborigines, presumably also at the Illawarra.


— Sterculia acerifolia A. Cunn. in Loudon's Hort. Brit. 392 (partly) (1830).


— A dye is obtained from the seed-vessels, according to the late Mr. W. Guilfoyle. It can only be of academic interest.


— The bark is fully 2 inches. thick when the tree is full grown, and furnishes bast of a most beautiful lace-like texture. The fibre is very simply prepared by steeping, and is suitable for cordage and nets, ropes, mats, baskets, &c., and is useful as a paper material. The tow is of a very elastic nature, and is suitable for upholstering purposes, such as stuffing mattresses or pillows. (Guilfoyle.) The fibre used to be employed by the blacks for making nets and fishing-lines.


— It exudes a gum which swells up in water. The mucilage of Sterculia platanifolia (young shoots) consists of araban with some galactan, according to K. Yoshimura, Bull. Coll. Agric. Imp. Univ. Tokyo, 1895, 2, 207; Journ. Chem. Soc. lxx (ii), 60, and doubtless the composition of Australian Sterculia gums will be found to be similar.


— Wood soft, light, and of a light colour. Like other woods of this genus, it can be torn away by the finger-nail, so it can have but a very limited use. A slab in the Technological Museum, which had been seasoned over twenty-five years (having been exhibited at the London International Exhibition of 1862), had a weight which corresponds to 27 lb. 4 oz. per cubic foot.

It and allied timbers might be experimented with by our entomologists to see if they could to any extent be substituted for cork, although I am aware they lack some of the properties of that substance.

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— It is a medium-sized and even large tree. When drawn up to the light in the struggle for existence which goes on in the brushes it may attain the height of 100 feet, with a stem diameter of 2 or 3 feet.


— It is confined to New South Wales and Queensland, and to the brushes of the eastern portion, in many places at no great distance from the sea. The range extends from the Illawarra to Southern Queensland. It would be desirable to ascertain the most southern and most northern localities. Illustrative localities in the National Herbarium are as follows, and the reason why it is so seldom seen in herbaria is because flowering specimens, often near the top of the tree, are hard to get at, while they press very badly.

Jamberoo (O. F. D. Cooper); Weston, Maitland District (V. C. Davis); Bonnington Park, Allynbrook (E. J. Laurie).

The Cedar Brush, 10 miles from Silverwood, and 23 miles west of Scone (E. G. Eagar).

I noticed it rarely from Bellingen to the foot of Dorrigo Mountain; then, ascending the mountain, here and there it could be observed in the abyss of vegetation below. It is moderately plentiful on the Dorrigo. A very fine specimen was seen in the Glenfernie Forest Reserve, near the pine-mill. It was not again seen going west. (J.H.M.)

Acacia Creek, Macpherson Range (W. Dunn).

Eumundi (South Queensland).


Plate 232: The Flame Tree. (Brachychiton acerifolius, F.v.M.) Lithograph by Margaret Flockton.

  • A. Leaf.
  • B. Part of flowering spray.
  • C. Flower opened out.
  • D. Stamens, monadelphous.
  • E. Anthers magnified.
  • F. Pistil.
  • G. Fruits.
  • H. Seed.
  • I. Seed-coat broken open, showing embryo.
  • K. Embryo.

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