The Illawarra flame tree (Brachychiton acerifolius) is one of the most spectacular red-flowering trees in the world. Native to rainforest areas from Illawarra to Cape York on Australia’s eastern coast, it can be a giant tree in the wild, towering over the surrounding forest. In the summer months there, this flame tree loses all of its leaves and completely covers itself with bright red flowers, creating a spectacle visible for many miles. It is smaller in cultivation. It is an excellent choice for a tropical look, growing to an eventual forty to fifty feet tall with a spread of twenty to twenty-five feet. Its six- to ten-inch, bright, glossy green leaves are deeply lobed on young plants (its species name means “maple-like leaves”) and shallowly lobed to oval on older trees. It has a stout trunk and main branches covered in a gray, wrinkled bark. Although its blooming habits in cultivation can vary from year to year, the Illawarra flame tree usually blooms in late spring or early summer; at that time, all or part of the tree becomes leafless, and the ends of branches are quickly covered with large, open, pendant clusters of one-inch, bright red, waxy, bell-shaped flowers. These flowers fall cleanly from the tree while still fresh, creating a carpet of red on the ground, and are followed by interesting clusters of five-inch black seedpods. In flower, the bright red color of Illawarra flame tree looks especially stunning in combination with the blue flowers of Jacaranda mimosifolia, which blooms at the same time of year. Plant in full sun in a well-drained soil and irrigate occasionally. Drought tolerant once established. Young trees a bit more tender but eventually hardy to about 25° F. A nice clean plant with a compact root system that does not raise pavement or have a lot of leaf drop so useful as a street of patio tree or even as a container specimen or indoor house plant. It is also known as the Illawara Flame Tree and the australian Flame Tree.
1. Scarify the seeds by nicking or sanding the seed coat.
2. Soak the seed in water for several hours.
3. Prepare a mixture of half potting soil and half sand, perlite or vermiculite.
4. Put the mixture in a pot with drainage holes in the base.
5. Water the mixture so that it is moist but not wet.
6. Put the seeds on the soil.
7. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil.
8. Water the seeds and keep the soil moist but not wet.
9. Place the pots in an area with warm temperatures in full sun or part shade.
10. When the seedlings are a few inches tall, they can be transplanted.