Attracting the birds and bees through gardening

I was looking for a suitable tree to plant in my garden that would have beautiful flowers and be nice and tall and not drop leaves all over the place. My mother was always interested in unusual trees, and particularly flowering ones that attracted birds, bees and butterflies. She had recommended the Colvillea Racemosa tree many years ago to brighten up my garden. Being a botanist, my mother had referred to this tree as the Genus Colvillea but really it had another name of Colville’s Glory. I had never had a suitable garden to be able to grow one in so I was delighted to be able to plant one last week at my new house.

This rare tree is considered an ornamental tree in Australia and grows upwards to approximately 10 or 15 metres high, with beautiful clusters of hundreds of red and orange flowers. Related to the Royal Poinciana the Colvillea is a legume from the Fabaceae family and grows in tropical and sub tropical climates. This deep green tree originated in the savannah and lowland forest areas of Madagascar and was named for a British Governor of Mauritius, Sir Charles Colville.  

The fine fern like leaves (each approximately three feet long and made up of smaller leaves), enhance the large clusters of flowers which come on large 1-2′ long cone shaped racemes that hang downward from the tips of the branches, appearing late winter into autumn. Over a number of weeks these flowers open from the base of the cluster slowly advance to the tip. Each bloom has numerous golden stamens and attracts nectar-loving birds for pollination. The flowers have large yellow orange stamens which are spectacular in appearance and are followed by long flat woody seed pods. The trunk is grey. This upright Colvillea tree grows in full sun to partial shade and prefers well drained, acid to rich, consistently humid soil which does not dry out between two waterings.  

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There is only one downside to this spectacular tree. The seedlings are poisonous if ingested and in fact all the parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested. The parts and or pollen may even cause skin irritations or allergic reactions. The plant also has spines and sharp edges and may need extreme care when handling. It does not tolerate cold climates or temperatures under 20 degrees.

The seeds can be bagged and captured upon ripening. The seed heads must be allowed to dry on plants before removal and collection. They will then need to be scarified before planting or they can be planted directly after the last frost. They will take about 15 days to appear on the top of the soil as plants. The immature tree can be quite fast growing and quickly becomes a tall upright tree in very little time. I believe this species is listed as “near threatened” but I have seen them happily growing in Brisbane.

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