What is Brachychiton?

Niki Foster

Brachychiton, commonly called Bottletree or Kurrajong, is a genus of 31 flowering trees and shrubs, with one species native to Papua New Guinea and the other 30 native to Australia. Bottletree plants are 13 to 130 feet (4 to 40 meters) in height, and many species feature a thick stem that conserves water in times of drought. The common name Kurrajong comes from the Dharuk word for "fishing line," because Australian Aborigines traditionally used the bark of the tree to make fishing lines.

One species of Brachychiton is native to Papua New Guinea, and the other 30 species are native to Australia.
One species of Brachychiton is native to Papua New Guinea, and the other 30 species are native to Australia.

Brachychiton carruthersii is the only species of the tree native to Papua New Guinea, and it grows only in its native country. The tree is of vulnerable conservation status due to habitat loss. The same problem threatens Brachychiton velutinosus, which grows both in Australia and Papua New Guinea.

Brachychiton acerifolius, commonly called the Iwarra Flame Tree, is cultivated all over the world for its bell-shaped, dark red flowers. B. acerifolius can reach 130 feet (40 meters) in height. Its dark brown, pod-like fruits were historically toasted and eaten by Aborigines.

Brachychiton discolor grows in drier rain forest climates than some other Bottletree species. It features pink flowers with no petals, and hairy leaves and fruit. B. discolor is popular as an ornamental plant, and its seeds are edible when roasted. It has many common names, including Hat Tree, Lacebark Tree, Lace Kurrajong, Pink Kurrajong, Scrub Bottletree, and White Kurrajong.

Brachychiton populneus, also called Black Kurrajong, Northern Kurrajong, and White-flower Kurrajong, is another popular ornamental Kurrajong species. Its bell-shaped flowers are pale to pink and often spotted on the inner surface. In addition to its edible seeds, B. populneus has been traditionally used for its bark, wood, and leaves. Aborigines used the wood to make shields and the bark as a fiber, while the leaves can be used to feed livestock affected by drought. B. populneus has become an invasive species in some areas of Australia.

Brachychiton rupestris, or the Queensland Bottletree, can reach 65 feet (20 meters) in height. It has a distinctive bottle-shaped trunk, from which it gets its common name. The Queensland Bottletree is another popular ornamental species, and it tolerates a wide range of temperatures and soil types. It features yellow flowers and woody, boat-shaped fruits. Some of the smaller, more shrub-like Brachychiton species are B. bidwillii or the Dwarf Kurrajong, B. gregorii or the Desert Kurrajong, and B. garrawayae.

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