Bottle Tree / Kurrajong (Brachychiton populneus) Introduction
Australian native, extremely drought hardy tree. Grows 5-15m tall. Edible seeds, leaves, flowers & roots - roast the seeds and grind into flour, make coffee out of them, or make nets from the fibrous bark and catch some fish. Bird & Insect attracting. Very easy to grow and suitable for just about any position. Suitable as wind break, cattle fodder, pot plant, feature tree, street tree, shade tree, this tree has got it all! Frost hardy to -5.
Bottle Tree / Kurrajong appearance
The Kurrajong, or Bottle Tree, is a medium sized tree, and native to Eastern Australia (Eastern Victoria to Townsville). It grows 5-15m tall with a short, Boab-like trunk and dense crown of glossy green foliage. Brachychiton populneus is semi-deciduous - trees lose their leaves briefly during winter, before shooting beautiful new foliage.
The Kurrajong bears bell shaped, cream to pink flowers with red speckles from October to January. Flowers are followed by hard-shelled, dark brown seed pods. Seed pods are 2-3” long, and contain large yellow seeds. Gloves should be worn when breaking the pods open, as they contain fine hairs (like fibreglass fibres) which are irritating to skin. The seeds themselves are fine to handle.
How to grow Bottle Tree / Kurrajong
Plants don’t come much easier than the Kurrajong! It is a very adaptable, extremely drought-hardy tree. Kurrajongs grows best in well draining soils, but will adapt to pretty well any condition. This includes rocky slopes, sandy soils, fertile soils and alkaline soils. They also grow well in large pots, don’t mind being pot bound, and will probably survive you going on a holiday without watering it. Not to say you should, it’s best to give it some TLC, but this is a gem for brown-thumbs.
The Kurrajong has a very deep root system, which is responsible for its drought hardiness. The stout trunk also holds water, similar to a Boab Tree, which makes this tree even more drought hardy. Being a very deep rooted tree, it’s suitable for growing in conjunction with other plants in the garden, as it doesn’t compete for nutrients.
As if it wasn’t amazing enough, it also tolerates frost to about -5C, and possibly survives more severe frosts for short amounts of time.
Bottle Tree / Kurrajong uses
The Kurrajong, or Bottle Tree, is used right along the Eastern Australian coast as a street tree, and as feature tree in parks. It is suitable as a feature tree in a garden, as a canopy tree to provide shade for other less sun-hardy plants, and as a medium-sized wind break. Kurrajong trees make an excellent shade tree, pop one in the middle of the lawn for a beautiful shady, sheltered spot for a picnic table!
Kurrajongs, or Bottle Trees, are planted in paddocks to provide fodder for cattle and sheep, mainly as emergency fodder in drought. It also provides good shade for the animals, and does not compete with grass or other plants/produce grown in the same paddock.
Seeds and flowers attract birds such as Cockatoos, and insects.
Fibre from the trunk of the tree was traditionally used to make rope and nets. Quote: “With twine made from Kurrajong bark, Aboriginal people of the Hastings River region, NSW, made fishing nets. They would drive the fish into the nets.” (Aboriginal Plant Use in SE Australia - https://www.anbg.gov.au/aborig.s.e.aust/brachychiton-populneus.html)
Eating Kurrajong seeds/plants (Brachychiton)
The Kurrajong tree has a lot to offer a garden, as it is not only very hardy, it is also useful and edible! Kurrajong seeds can be roasted and eaten (note it should be cooked in one way or another before eating); Aboriginal people roasted & ground the seeds and used it to make cakes. It was also used as a flour-extender. It is quite a useful, sustainable food source, as the seeds remain in their pods a long time, and stay good for a year or more whilst in the pod. Simply pick what you need and leave the rest on the tree. Possibly for the birds, things are always better shared :)
One of bushcraftoz.com’s forum members describes: “After 5 to 10 minutes, the seeds start to become crunchy…” “So when lightly toasted, they become crunchy on the outside and are somewhat like popcorn kernels which haven’t popped, but not as hard as that. They are nice as a snack, but the oil and salt, really lifted the flavours and the appeal of the seeds.” Seeds are very nutritious and are high in protein, minerals, and fats.
Some sources also list the taproot as a nutritious vegetable, as well as listing the leaves and flowers as being edible. Quote “The flowers have a somewhat waxy texture and a very mild vegetable taste, often with a sweet note coming from the nectar in the flower”. (bushcraftoz.com). The description of the leaf is slightly less attractive, being ‘fibrous, somewhat bitter, and mucousy’. Yum. I might try them one day. They do recommend eating the leaves young, as they get more bitter and mucous as they age.
Ground-up seeds can also be brewed into a coffee substitute, which is described as having more of a mocha-taste, rather than a true coffee taste.
Bottle Tree / Kurrajong common names
Bottle Tree, Kurrajong, Lacebark Kurrajong
Photo credits: Krzystof ziarnek, Monomoyano
Department of Primary Industries - http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/agriculture/resources/private-forestry/paddock-plants/Brachychiton-populneus-Kurrajong.pdf
Our Wild Foods to the World - http://anpsa.org.au/APOL25/mar02-5.html
Aboriginal Plant Use in SE Australia - https://www.anbg.gov.au/aborig.s.e.aust/brachychiton-populneus.html