SPOTTED SILKY OAK: An Ivory Curl Tree in bloom in Carrington St, Grafton.
SPOTTED SILKY OAK: An Ivory Curl Tree in bloom in Carrington St, Grafton. Barbara Fahey

A tree of many names

WHAT'S in a name, or two, or three or more?

The answer is confusion. This is why I always give the definitive botanical name for tree species as common names vary from place to place.

With the Ivory Curl Tree, this common name so aptly describes its flowers that it is easily recognisable, but another name it goes by is Spotted Silky Oak.

These trees are part of the family Proteaceae as are the Waratah, the Silky Oak and Macadamia. They grow naturally only in the wet tropic rainforests of north-eastern Australia and were first found in 1865 near Rockingham Bay.

The species was named Buckinghamia celsissima in honour of Richard Grenville, Duke of Buckingham (one may ask why) and celsissima, Latin meaning very tall.

In its natural habitat it reaches 30 metres but is much smaller, 10 metres, in cultivation.

In the wild it frequently grows with Kauri pine (Agathis robusta), forming part of the complex ecology of its native habitat and is a food plant for the larval stages of the Cornelian Butterfly.

Leaves are variable, glossy dark green above, whitish below while the new growth is an attractive bronze colour. But its glory lies in its flowers, abundant, showy and fragrant. These trees presently are a joy to behold and can be found in Grafton gloriously flowering in Pound, Oliver, Carrington, Duke Streets and elsewhere, including gardens.

Seek them out and delight in their beauty and their fragrance, especially in the early morning. And maybe just remember that name, Buckinghamia celsissima.

References: Wikipedia. Australia. Australian Tropical Rainforest Plants, edition 6.1 on line version (CSIRO).

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