Tree of the week: Firewheel tree


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Good morning, Joe Biden. It’s still gray and gloomy in my part of town, but I’m sure it will be bright and sunny before long.

My tree-loving friend Pieter Severynen wanted to share a few thoughts before his weekly column:

In this column I sing the praises of the hundreds of tree species that make up our Southland urban forest. I love to make our trees more widely known. I write for the intelligent reader who understands that every tree may be outstanding in some way, but that no species will fit every planting situation, or even most, or please everyone, and that some trees will only fit narrow niches. Within a limited space I provide facts; I describe the tree’s character and list its prominent qualities, good and bad, including review of the Cal-IPC invasive plants status. I enjoy your thoughtful comments.


Firewheel tree – Stenocarpus sinuatus

The moment you see a firewheel tree in bloom you understand its name. The bright orange, red and yellow flowers resemble those of other members of the Protaceae family, such as the Grevilleas, but here the flowers are arranged in circular clusters, called inflorescences; radiating from a common center, they resemble the spokes of a wheel. The genus name derives from the Greek stenos (narrow) and carpos (fruit); the species name comes from the Latin sinuatus (wavy) and refers to the undulating leaf edge.

Slow-growing and densely foliated, the evergreen firewheel tree eventually may reach 30 feet tall and 15 feet wide. It looks very attractive year round. The shiny green leaves, 12-plus inches long, are deeply lobed while the tree is young, but older trees lose that juvenile characteristic. The spectacular flowers, 2 to 3 inches long, usually appear in summer or early fall, but may show up whenever the tree feels like it. Sometimes they grow straight out of trunk and bark (cauliflorus). They are followed by woolly gray fruit capsules. The smooth, light gray trunk roughens with age. The tree likes full sun or part shade, rich, deep soil on the acidic side and moderate to regular watering. A showy tree for the garden, it is also a great swimming pool plant, since there is little leaf drop.

The firewheel tree comes from the tropical rain forest on the eastern edge of Australia and in Papua New Guinea. Nectar-sucking honeyeater birds pollinate the flowers in the wild. Flying fox bats and Australian aboriginal people also appreciate the taste of its nectar, while tree kangaroos and wombats feed on the leaves.

Thanks, Pieter.
--Peter Viles
Your thoughts? Comments?
Photo Credit: Pieter Severynen