Book Reviews

Brachychitons: Flame Trees, Kurrajongs and Bottle Trees

brachychitons1Brachychitons: Flame Trees, Kurrajongs and Bottle Trees

by Kerry Rathie

Reviewed by Lawrie Smith

Almost everyone knows a Bottle Tree or a Flame Tree and perhaps even a Kurrajong. You certainly will if you live in the drier areas west of the Great Divide. Unfortunately, this surprising family of drought tolerant and ornamental plants has for too long been largely overlooked.

It’s time for a change! For any Australian plant enthusiast, armchair botanist or traveller, this new book will be a comprehensive source of information for the genus Brachychiton through the text and the numerous photographs that illustrate the variety in form, foliage, fruits and flowers in specimens across most of the continent. 

Obviously these unique and interesting trees and shrubs, so characteristic of many Australian landscapes, have the potential to make a major botanic and aesthetic contribution to the environments of parks, gardens and streetscapes of our towns and cities.

'Brachychitons' is a 220 page soft cover book divided into five chapters, each covering a specific characteristic of the genus. The first chapter divides the species of the genus into five botanical sections, each with its own distinctive specimen form: the Flame Trees; the Kurrajongs; the Bottle Trees; the trees with columnar trunks; and the small trees and shrubs. This last section is by far the largest at almost 100 pages signifying the large number of smaller species in the genus and their amazing diversity.

Brachychiton diversifolius ssp. diversifolius

The second chapter covers the named natural hybrids and the photographs illustrate that these specimens have some of the most dramatic and attractive flowers. Chapter three describes numerous manmade hybrids, affectionately called ‘Brachys’, which almost rival those nature created.  

The fourth chapter covers the economic uses of the genus in horticulture and as a food source. Who would have thought that the seeds make great instant coffee or nutritious flour for scones! 

The last chapter introduces some of the people who have been working with the genus over many years, each freely sharing the results of their research into the genus.

As this book readily promotes, the ‘Brachys’ are a wonderful group of plants that have many positive characteristics that should be more widely appreciated and incorporated into our gardens and landscapes. This genus has many advantages – its specimens are eminently suited to cope with climate change through drought tolerance; they provide seasonal sun and shade diversity through their deciduous foliage; their attractive bell flowers are precocious making dramatic statements over the canopy and in some species decoratively clustered along trunk and branches. 

Kerry Rathie’s “Brachychitons” provides detail descriptions for each of the species and for many of the hybrids. From this and the related photos, the reader will have an excellent basis to identify ‘Brachy’ specimens and to understand the regional site conditions in which they grow naturally. Suitably informed by this book, the selection of suitable species, subsequent planting and establishment will be encouraged and assured.brachychitons2

Recommended retail price is $35 to single inquiries and a little less to bookshops and SGAP/APS booksellers.  Available from the author at 6 Bright Street, Toowoomba South, Qld. 4350.

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