Brachychiton acerifolius, commonly known as the Illawarra Flame Tree, is a large tree of the family Malvaceae native to subtropical regions on the east coast of Australia. It is famous for the bright red bell-shaped flowers that often cover the whole tree when it is leafless. Along with other members of the genus Brachychiton, it is commonly referred to as a Kurrajong.
Brachychiton acerifolius was first described in 1855 by W. Macarthur and C. Moore. It is sometimes spelled as Brachychiton acerifolium, under the assumption that the genus name Brachychiton is (Greek) neuter. In fact, Brachychiton is masculine, and hence the correct species epithet is acerifolius. The name Brachychiton is derived from the Greek brachys, meaning short, and chiton, a type of tunic, as a reference to the coating on the seed.
The specific epithet acerifolius suggests the appearance of the foliage is similar to that of the genus Acer, the maples. This tree is tolerant of temperate climates and is now cultivated world-over for its beauty. However, the maximum height of 40 metres is reached only in the original, warmer, habitat. It usually grows to be about 20 metres. Similarly to its Kurrajong relatives the leaves are variable, with up to 7 deep lobes. It is deciduous - shedding its leaves after the dry season.
The spectacular flowering occurs in late spring and new foliage is ready for the summer rains. In areas where the winter is not particularly dry, this natural rhythm may become somewhat erratic and the tree may flower only partially. Flowers are scarlet bells with 5 partially fused petals. The pod-like fruits (technically known as follicles) are dark brown, wide, boat-shapes and about 10 cm long. They contain masses of thin bristles that stick in the skin, as well as yellow seeds. These are nutritious and were eaten by Aborigines after toasting.
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