Bottle trees line Robinson Avenue in Grafton.
Bottle trees line Robinson Avenue in Grafton.

Unique Australian tree worth bottling

VISIT an avenue with a difference, a very different avenue: Robinson Avenue, Grafton.

Here splendid specimens of the uniquely Australian tree, Brachychiton rupestris, thrive to form an unusual avenue. This tree is also known as the Queensland Bottle Tree, the Narrow-leaved Bottle Tree or just the Bottle Tree.

Discovered by the explorer, Thomas Mitchell, in 1848 it was soon called the Bottle Tree because of its extraordinary trunk where the swelling is due to the water held there. It is deciduous, losing its leaves in October to December when cream-coloured flowers appear in clusters at the end of branches, each plant having distinct male and female flowers like all Brachychiton species. However the flowers are not conspicuous.

Thomas Mitchell first found the tree as he climbed the rocky hilltop of Mount Abundance near Roma Queensland. Its name 'rupestris' means 'living among rocks'. Its native habitat stretches north from the Boonah district, west to Carnarvon National Park.

Indigenous people used these trees for food by eating the roots of young plants and secretions from the trunk, secretions that were made by wounding. Fibre from the tree was used to make nets. Queensland farmers have used the trees, both leaves and trunk pulp, for cattle fodder in drought.

I know of no other mature avenue of this species in NSW but there is a famous one in Roma which was planted about 1919, nearly 100 years ago, each tree representing one of the 93 local men killed in World War I. A beautiful memorial.

A specific date for the planting of our avenue cannot be determined but locals suggest 1970s/80s. Perhaps Council has records?

Some more recent plantings in the avenue have filled in gaps where specimens had not thrived. They take about eight years to acquire the distinctive bottle shape. Other specimens grow in McHugh and Queen streets.

This extraordinary tree, unique to Australia, is another indication of the amazing botanical story of our continent which developed in isolation for so long. Why pollute and modify this wonderland with plants from other continents no matter how pretty they may be?

References: Wikipedia, Australian Native Plants Society, Rainforest Trees and Shrubs by G Harden, Bill McDonald and J Williams.

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