How to grow Plants A story about the breeding of grafted gums

A story about the breeding of grafted gums


Summer Glory. Photo - Linda Ross

 

Graham Ross tells the inspiring story of Queensland nurseryman Stan Henry’s determination to create a flowering gum that anyone could grow. 


“I grew up looking at trees self-grafted. So I knew eucalypts could graft, no matter what anyone else said.” 


It’s been disappointing and frustrating not to be able to grow the spectacular West Australian Flowering Gum, Corymbia ficifolia, syn.Eucalyptus ficifolia. It has a very limited distribution in the wild, and gardeners have found that all too often the flowers end up white or a sickly pale pink. Experts believed for a long time that it was just never going to be a garden plant; that eucalypts couldn’t be grafted and that the glorious Western Australian flowering gum would never find a happy home outside the sandy soils of their original home.

Then in 1973 I saw a photograph of grafted eucalypts taken in a nursery in California. They were all around 40 cm tall, all in flower, and all identical. But when I mentioned this to native plant enthusiasts in Australia at the time, they told me not to believe my own eyes because the grafting of eucalypts just wasn’t possible. 

But Stan Henry always thought it was possible and through a lifetime’s work he has turned that belief into reality in his nursery in the Glasshouse Mountains in Queensland, where he has developed the Summer Series of flowering gums.

Stan was first inspired to start working on grafting flowering gums out of sheer frustration. “There was endless frustration trying to produce a satisfactory flowering gum,” he explains. You’d be able to grow the plant in the early stages, but then it would become sick, if it flowered at all.” This was in the mid-‘50s and the early ‘60s, so that by 1966 Stan had decided there was no future in growing seedlings on their own root stock; he would have to try grafting.

This was a heretical idea at the time, but Stan had grown up around the bush, with a father who was interested in the country and had a great love of plants. “He introduced me to plants and to my long affair with eucalypts,” explains Stan, “and that’s really where I got the idea. I grew up looking at trees self-grafted. So I knew they could graft.”

At that time Stan had never grafted a plant in his life. But he was right, eucalypts would graft. “I used the Swamp Bloodwood , or the Spring Bloodwood as it’s now called, and the West Australian gum, Corymbia ficifolia,” recalls Stan. “The first one we did is a red-flowered one and it’s called ‘Summer Red’. I have to admit when that flower opened, it was so beautiful. You know what it’s like when you have something new, and it’s looking good, and you wonder with anticipation how it’s going to be. So one day I went down to have a look, and it was partly open, and it was so beautiful, I struggled not to cry.”

Stan has developed some other colours since. “We have a white one, that I didn’t try to breed, so I was stunned to see this beautiful white flower come out of a pink bud,” he says. “The other one is mauve and in a planting not far from here where the public can see them, that one draws a lot of attention. People are very interested in that one. They love the colour, especially in the afternoons. We call it ‘Summer Glory’.

Stan Henry has a spirit I really admire. He has had the courage to face people with closed minds, to launch out in a new direction and to really explore the unknown with an open mind. And he has really shown us the way. If I was the government I would have given him an OAM for services to gardening years ago. But as I’m not, I’ll just show you, and tell you about, his wonderful plants.

 

Text: Graham Ross

 

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Comments

Daniel Wheatley commented on 26 Sep 16

Hi Lee,

You're going to find it quite hard to get a Summer Red that size in a nursery near you. You could try calling Plants of Noosa, or ePlants, but I really doubt anyone will have a tree that big in stock. Further, if you do find a mature Summer Red it's likely to cost an arm and a leg!
Perhaps you should consider buying one in about an 8" pot, planting it and growing it on. They are very fast growing and thrive with a good haircut after flowering.
I know my friends at Fairhill Nursery at Ninderry (which is quite close to you) will have Summer Red again in a month or two, after they sold out earlier this month.
Maybe give them a call on (07) 5446 7088 and order one.
Thanks, and happy gardening,
Dan Wheatley

Lee Scott commented on 24 Sep 16

Hi, thanks for your wonderful articles. I'm interested in what Stan Henry has done with the Summer Red series but having trouble getting a reasonably sized, say 150L, tree. Can you please advise who can supply one on the Sunshine Coast. So many nurseries are wholesalers and don't deal with the public understandably

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Author: Graham Ross