Thursday, 18 June 2009

Catalyst Features My Favourite


Amid Catalyst's sumptuous and scientific portrait of Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens (with a brief mention of the Botanic Gardens Trust's seedbank at Mount Annan Botanic Garden), my favourite tree, and tree story, got some air time.

I've spoken and written about it a few times, but just in case you don't know the story of the 'Imperial Tree', read on...

There is a tree in the Royal Botanic Gardens with a royal name, and a royal origin.

The majestically named Chrysophyllum imperiale is from the rainforests of Brazil. Our largest specimen was planted by Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, and son of Queen Victoria in 1868.
The trip had its ups and downs. His Royal Highness had recently survived an assassination attempt at Clontarf, across the harbour. (Although a Florence Nightingale trained nurse Lucy Osburn soon brought the Prince back to full health, the incident sparked a period of racism in Australia with an anti-Irish Catholic movement lasting for many years.)

On the up, I think, as the first member of English royal family to visit Australia the Prince was welcomed with one of the earliest Sydney Harbour fireworks displays.

The tree itself is rare in its natural habitat and you are unlikely to see outside a few botanic gardens. In 1868 it was commonly found around Rio de Janeiro but that city’s spread has destroyed most of its natural habitat. In fact we sent some seed back to Rio to support their recovery program for this tree.

Also typically for that period, it was moved a few years later to a new spot – they liked doing that sort of thing and we still occasionally do it with younger trees.

The leaves are large, up to 40 cm long, slightly pleated and with toothed edges. The species name ‘imperiale’ is presumably a reference to its majestic leaves and overall bearing. The genus name means ‘golden leaf’, referring to the leaves of some species having a golden undersurface – Chrysophyllum imperiale doesn’t have golden leaves but the new growth has rusty hew…

We also the Star Apple, Chrysophyllum cainito, in the Gardens. It isn’t as impressive overall but it does have golden under-leaves and tasty fruits.

Apparently Chrysophyllum imperiale makes a nice pot plant when carefully pruned and the Friends of the Gardens sometimes have them available for sale. And if you want to see a close up of the magnificent leaves see my earlier posting.

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