Plants I love: Jerilderie Red
The chance cross between an Illawarra flame tree and a kurrajong is a tree that should be better known and more widely grown.
Words and pictures: Tim Pickles
I am a lover of trees. Our house is surrounded by a two-metre high hedge of Waterhousia floribunda, so you can’t see it from the street.
The house is designed for passive solar heating. We rely on the sun to heat our house in winter and have big windows that look out into the garden. We don’t have curtains - we rely on foliage to give us privacy. A couple of years ago I discovered that a new house was to be built in the distance, so I went looking for a tree that would grow fast, and give us year-round privacy.
I stumbled upon a grafted native tree called Brachychiton ‘Jerilderie Red’. It has glossy green leaves all year round and red, bell-like bracts/flowers in summer.
I planted the tree, and it’s thrived despite several years of dry weather. It’s grown 3-4 metres high and 2 metres wide. It’s nice and bushy.
Because it’s a grafted tree, it flowered in the first year it was planted. It has red, Christmas bell-like flowers/bracts in summer, which are followed by black seed pods. I’ve noticed the currawongs love to eat the yellow, corn-like seeds in late winter and early spring.
I love this tree and decided to do more research to find out where it came from.
It’s an interesting story.
I contacted Jerilderie Primary School. (Jerilderie is a town of a thousand or so people in the Riverina, most famous as the place where Ned Kelly penned a long letter justifying his actions.) I spoke with Judy Knight at the school and she put me in touch with Laurie Henery, a local historian. Laurie has just helped write a small book to celebrate the school’s 150-year anniversary. There’s a story about the tree, and a picture of it, in his book. Laurie was a great help.
The tree was first discovered growing in the residence garden at Jerilderie Primary School. It had been planted by a student called Maggie MacDonald in around 1880. She probably found the seedling growing in her parent’s garden.
It wasn’t until 1958 that an amateur horticulturist called Walter Pyle noticed that the tree’s bright red flowers were unique. It turns out that Maggie MacDonald’s seedling had been a chance cross between an Illawarra flame tree, Brachychiton acerifolius, and a kurrajong, Brachychiton populneus.
In 1980 Walter Pyle sought to get the tree registered with the Australian Cultivar Authority. In 1983 his wish was granted, and the tree became officially known as Brachychiton ‘Jerilderie Red’.
The tree in the school grounds is now almost 140 years old. It’s 10 metres high by 6 metres wide. If you’re going through Jerilderie, check it out.
I think this tree should be famous. The school has written a song about it. It thrives in our hot dry climate, and it has red flowers at Christmas time. How good is that!
Where to buy
You can find Brachychiton ‘Jerilderie Red’ at Tim’s Garden Centre, 2 Queen Street Campbelltown, which also sometimes has a pink-flowering from that was discovered growing in Griffith.