Tuesday, November 5, 2013

N is for NUYTSIA FLORIBUNDA..OUR VERY OWN WESTERN AUSTRALIAN CHRISTMAS TREE

In Western Australia there is a large shrub or small tree which comes into bud at about this time of year and before and during Christmas is covered with the most delightful golden blossoms.  It is Nuytsia floribunda:

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.





12 comments:

  1. I do hope I get out to Australia one day. You show the most amazing places and such beautiful fauna. I often think what it must have been like for those early settlers in places like Australia and America. Wonderful post!

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    1. My folks emigrated to Oz in 1920 when things were reasonably civilised although farming in the south of our state was in many ways still quite primitive. Often without electricity or running water and still the use of a horse and cart to get around.
      I am sure the very early settlers from 1829 onwards really did appreciate these beautiful 'Christmas' trees.

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    1. Yes, Delores, it is and those in our neighbourhood are in bloom right now. They are glorious.

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  3. These golden stunners must be so very close to your heart. I know you have a weakness for the colour - and who could not share it.
    Nice post. No naughtiness. Which are about the best N words I can nudge from my brain this morning.

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    1. Not naughty but just so nice. They truly are and unfortunately when they built a retirement village just near us several of these beautiful trees had to be destroyed. Such a pity but that's progress for you.
      Yes, the colour truly does please me.

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  4. What a spectacular tree! In colouring similar to a flowering silky oak, but otherwise nothing like it. Interesting that it would grow off so many other plants without taking over and killing the hosts. Hey, there's nutrient here, let's all share it.....a role model for people perhaps?

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    1. That is quite philosophical River ...the sharing part, but how very true.
      In my opinion this tree is far more spectacular than a silky oak although they too are very beautiful. These trees really stand out in the landscape like no other.

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    2. You're right, they are more magnificent, I love that first photo where there are several trees in the landscape, it must look wonderful from the air, imagine going over in a small sight seeing plane.

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    3. Unfortunately throughout the metropolitan areas many of these trees have been cleared to allow new suburbs to be created. If I had a block with one growing I'd try my hardest to have it left there.

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  5. Hari Om
    these are fabulous and one I had not been aware of or seen before. What an absolute stunner! YAM xx

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  6. You have to be here at the right time of year to see them. When not in bloom you would pass them by as being inconsequential and then......this fantastic colour breaks out and you stare amazed. xx

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