Some plants simply take your breath away. I don’t mean literally (although I suppose some do if used too generously in cooking!) I mean the type where you round a corner, be it walking, driving, riding or even boating, and a single plant or group of plants are just so spectacular that you involuntary take a sharp breath. If you have experienced this, you’ll know what I mean.
A few that I can think of would be beech forests in the highlands of Tasmania; Endless plains of ephemeral wildflowers in the far north of South Australia; Rolling coastal hills covered with Banksia in full bloom in South West Western Australia; The beautiful trunks of snow gums, the leaves dripping with ice in the Australian Alps; Stark elephantine Western Australian Christmas trees festooned with bright yellow flowers; Even our own local blue leaved Murray Valley Mallee on a cold misty night reflecting moonlight or car headlights.
However, one plant stands out for me. That is the Western Australian Red Flowering Gum. It used to be called Eucalyptus ficifolia, however it now goes by the name of Corymbia ficifolia. All gum trees flower, but this one out does all 800 or so species in the way it flowers. The typical tree grows to around 10m – many larger, and in the Riverland and Mallee, most will be smaller. The leaves are quite thick, but not quite leathery. The bark is retained on the tree and is quite fibrous. The flowers in summer are so massed that they can’t be missed. Even if you look away, your eyes will naturally be drawn back for another and longer look while you linger and ponder the wonder of it.
On a healthy vigorous plant, the flowers are so thickly borne that the top half of the tree, no leaves are visible.
You may ask, if it is so spectacular, why it is not widely planted. In many higher rainfall districts in Australia it is. There are a few draw backs for use in the Riverland and Mallee. Once these are understood, a sensible choice can be made as to its suitability. The WA Flowering Gum can be frost tender when young, it needs good drainage, and very limey soils tend to induce yellowing. They tend to be quite slow growing. To top it all off, plants grown from seed can take many years to flower and the flowers can turn out to be red, orange, pink or even white. It starts to make a holiday in Western Australia in December a good idea!
The ideal place to plant one would be in sandy soil with a bit of frost protection in the first winter and with perhaps something like weekly watering initially then easing to every three or four weeks long term.
The good news is that for quite a few years, grafted WA Red Flowering Gum has been available. The main advantage is that you can choose the flower colour (they will be in flower in the pot during summer) and of course they flower straight away. The tree itself will be around 4 – 6m high, so far more ‘small garden’ friendly. So for a bit of ‘so spectacular it takes your breath away’ in your very own garden, consider the WA Red Flowering Gum.
This article first published in the Riverland Weekly © February 16, 2012.