An evergreen tree to 20 metres with a dense rounded crown, with a broad-canopy spread.
It is a common sight in NSW inland areas, occurring throughout virtually all of the western slopes and plains as well as tableland areas. It is also found in the coastal hinterland. It grows as far west as Ivanhoe. It extends into Queensland, growing as far as Cairns-region. It grows over much of the eastern half of Victoria and into the north-west. Records in South Australia may be from planted specimens.
It is often found in dry sclerophyll woodland and forest, especially on creeklines but also further upslope and colonises roadsides and open areas.
Brachychiton spp. can have simple or compound leaves. However, all NSW species have simple. In this species, leaves are alternate, ovate to lanceolate, to 20 cm long which includes a 10 cm-lamina and 10 cm-petiole; entire or 3-5 lobed (moving to trident-shape) and with an attenuating apex, mid glossy green in colour with paler undersides, slightly leathery in texture.
Brachychiton spp. tend to produce showy flowers in axillary panicles. In this species, flowers are creamy white on the outside with dark-red continuous speckles in the throat, campanulate (bell-shaped) with the 5 petals fused into a tube, with 5-lobes at the apex in a star-shape formation, to 20 mm long by 20 mm wide, appearing in spring to summer.
The fruit is a follicle which strongly resembles a pod (somewhat resembling that seen in Castonospermum australe (Black Bean), to 7 cm long on a stalk to 5 cm long, containing seeds inside about 1 cm across with reportedly irritating hairs attached (exercise caution here).
An attractive evergreen tree that might be considered for a home garden but likely too big. Kurrajongs can cause problems from their large woody fruit, deep roots that clog drains and potential for escape into native vegetation. They are suited as a street tree. Grows in most soils and accepts dry conditions. Is also frost hardy.
Trees and seeds available commercially.
Editor’s note: I have had lunch within the canopy of this species on hot summer days in the bush in 40°C. There is often an instant ‘air-conditioning’ effect when you walk underneath one with a broad canopy.
Propagation from seed is relatively easy without any pre-treatment. The seeds are surrounded in the capsule by irritant hairs and are best collected using gloves
There are 2 subspecies currently recognised in NSW:
Reportedly, First Nations names for this species are Carrejun and carrejan when referring to trees in the foothills of the Blue Mountains near Sydney and the bark was used for twine and fishing lines. The Kurrajong has multiple uses and was used by many First Nations clans and tribes around Australia. The seeds located in a seed pod were often removed, cleaned of the fine hairs within the seed pod, and roasted
Water could be obtained from the tree roots by boring a hole in the trunk and squeezing the wood There are also records of the fruits being turned into a children’s rattle or toy. The soft spongy wood was used for making shields, and the bark as a fibre.
The leaves are also used as emergency fodder for drought-affected animal stock. There are also records of European settlers using the seeds as a coffee supplement by roasting and crushing the seeds.
Brachychiton are mostly trees, often with swollen trunks, sometimes multi-stemmed shrubs, evergreen or deciduous, monoecious (have male flowers and female flowers in separate structures on the same plant). There are 34 species in the world. Australia has 30 species occurring in all mainland States, chiefly in tropical & subtropical regions. New Guinea has the other species. NSW currently recognises 3 species.
The Kurrajong has been recorded as a host plant for the mistletoe species Dendrophthoe glabrescens.
This species likely regenerates after fire through the seed bank. Mature trees may be able to reshoot after fire.
Brachychiton – from Greek, brachys (βραχύς) meaning “short” and chiton (χιτών), meaning “a tunic”, referring to the bristles that surround the seeds in the fruit;
populneus – Latin – referring to the Genus Populus – the Poplar genus – for the shape of the leaves which do bear a strong resemblance.
This species is not considered to be at risk of extinction in the wild.
Wrigley, J.W. & Fagg, M.I. (2001). Australian Native Plants – Propagation, cultivation and use in landscaping. 4th edition. New Holland Publishers, Pty. Ltd. Australia.
Australian Native Plants Society (Australia) – Brachychiton populneus profile page https://anpsa.org.au/plant_profiles/brachychiton-populneus/
NSW Flora Online (PlantNET) – Brachychiton populneus profile page: https://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Brachychiton~populneus
Australian National Herbarium – Brachychiton populneus profile page: https://www.anbg.gov.au/gnp/interns-2002/brachychiton-populneus.htm