It is a hemiparasitic plant known locally as the Christmas Tree, displaying these bright orange flowers leading up to and during the Christmas season:
The habit of the species is a shrub or a tree up to 10m (30 ft) high. The rough bark is is grey-brown and the vivid yellow-orange flowers appear between October and January. It is a root hemiparasite, is photosynthetic and mainly obtains water and mineral nutrients from its hosts. The haustoria arising from the roots of Nuytsia attach themselves to roots of many nearby plants, including grass, and draw water and therefore nutrients from them. Almost all species are susceptible to attack. Hastoria have even been found attached to underground cables. In natural settings Nuytsia withdraws relatively little from each individual host, but is attached to so many other plants that the benefit to this hemiparasitic tree is likely to be considerable. (I am sure I am correct in saying that, unlike the sandalwood (Santalum spicatum) it does NOT kill its hosts.)
A member of the Loranthaceae, a mistletoe family of Santalales, the genus Nuytsia is monotypic. the first description was published by Jacques Labillardiere in Novae Hollandiae Plantarum Specimen, as a species of Loranthus, the specfic epithet describing the profuse flowers he would have observed at Esperance (on our south coast). The botanist Robert Brown published a remark on the species in 1931, giving a new genus name without a formal description. The description was published by George Dun using Brown's name of Nuytsia an epithet that commemorates the seventeenth-century Dutch explorer and colonial official Pieter Nuyts.
Nuytsia floribunda is well known in south-west Australia, where it is named the Christmas Tree , the common name outside of this region is Western Australian Christmas Tree (well now, that makes sense doesn't it?). The appearance of abundant flowers in summer is a spectacular display. Although these seeds germinate readily and seedlings are easy to grow for a year or two, cultivation of the species to maturity is regarded as difficult, with little success outside its native habitat. It appears on a variety of soil types throughout south-west Australia; the distribution extends to the east of the Esperance Plain and to the north on the Geraldton Sandplains.
The Aboriginal Nyungar people made use of the species during "Kambarang", around October to early December, obtaining bark of the tree to make shields. The gum that exudes from the wound can be collected later; and it is sweet and eaten raw.
One can only imagine early settlers from the UK finding life so different in this hot, and often hostile, country feeling very homesick as it would be so very different to Christmastime in their home country. When this beautiful tree came into flower I can understand why it would become their 'Christmas tree'. (I mentioned in my York post about Mary (my Mum's step-mother) visiting from England. While she was here we took her for a drive around the Swan River and stopped near the Royal Perth Yacht Club where there was (and hopefully still is) a most magnificent specimen of Nuytsia floribunda. She was amazed at its beauty and we took a photograph after she had gone home, and sent the print to her so she could show her friends in England.
There are several of these beautiful trees only a few hundred metres from where we live and we wait each year for the buds to appear and then anticipate them in full bloom. You always know Christmas is just around the corner when they flower.
My thanks to Wikipedia for this excellent description of this plant and others for the free pictures.