As a native northern European I was brought up with fir trees at Christmas time. Even though Prince Albert imported the idea from his native Germany to make him feel more at home with Queen Victoria in London, the Brits embraced the concept quickly.
Then because of Britain’s huge global influence at the time, the concept of decorated Christmas fir trees (Abies or Pinus) spread far and wide.
Now in the southern hemisphere we celebrate Christmas (which is also the summer solstice) with a symbol of German mid-winter. It is a notion that has always puzzled me as no matter where you are in the Southern part of the world, there are wonderful natives that are in full bloom – celebrating in their own way the height of the summer season.
Now I’m no Grinch – so people should do what they feel represents their roots best, but for me, here are two of my local favourites at the holiday season.
The NSW Christmas Bush starts off with creamy coloured flowers in November that turn a bright red around Christmas time. Early settlers cultivated it as it reminded them of the red berries of the English Holly and their homelands. Admittedly it is a bit ordinary looking the rest of the year, but it is worth having one around just for the 4-6 weeks of glorious blossom as we approach high summer.
The Red Flowering Gum on the other hand hasn’t been cultivated domestically so much in the past due to its unreliability of colour and size but is gaining in popularity now thanks to more compact and predictable varieties becoming available through hybridisation and grafting.
The Eucalyptus genus has had a rather tumultuous time recently being split into three groups, which still confuses many people brought up with the simple, all encompassing Eucalypt.
The wonderful Angophoras get their own genus, then some remain as Eucalypts while the rest become Corymbias.
Both Corymbias and Angophoras are terminal flowering – that means they hold their flowers at the end of the branches unlike other Eucalypts that produce flowers within the leaf canopy. If the flowers are bright then they make an even more spectacular display if they are terminally located. Most of the current offerings of Red Flowering Gums found in garden centres across Australia are a cross between the Corymbia ficifolia which originates from southwest WA with Corymbia ptychocarpa from northern Australia.
One way or another, these two spectacular flowering shrubs/trees herald the coming of summer, holidays, family fun and general good times – and that’s definitely something to celebrate.
Author: Bob Saunders (www.gardensonline.com.au)