Over the Christmas period I had a lot of questions from friends and family about the Western Australian Christmas Tree, so I thought this would be a great plant to start the New Year with.
The Western Australian Christmas Tree belongs to the plant family Loranthaceae and to the genus Nuytsia. Nuytsia is a monotypic genus, meaning it only has one species; Nuytsia floribunda more commonly known as the Western Australian Christmas Tree. As the common name suggests, this species is endemic to Western Australia (i.e. found nowhere else) and can be found naturally growing from Kalbarri to Israelite Bay on sandy or granite soils in open forest, woodland and heath.
Nuytsia floribunda is a tree or a shrub that can grow to 10 m in height. It has rough, grey brown bark and blueish green opposite to scattered linear leaves. The inflorescence (a group or cluster of flowers arranged on a stem) is a terminal (at the end of the stem or branch) raceme (an inflorescence of stalked flowers arranged along the main stem), with the flowers arranged in clusters of 3. Each cluster has a central female flower and two lateral male flowers. The individual flowers have 6 to 8 linear petals and a distinctive deep yellow to bright orange colour.
One of the most interesting things about this plant is that it’s hemiparasitic, which means that it’s able to parasitise other plants as well as photosynthesise for itself. The WA Christmas Tree is able to parasitise other plants using haustorial roots – are root appendages that have the ability to penetrate the tissue of the host plant and draw nutrients from it. The haustoria of Nuytsia floribunda use a cutting action to sever the roots and penetrate the host’s tissue. The roots of Nuytsia floribunda have also been known to cut through other things besides host roots such as small water pipes, electric cables and telephone lines that have been buried.
These beautiful trees flower from October through until January and when in flower are easily spotted by their bright and vibrant orange flowers, a sure sign that summer and Christmas are on their way.
- Wheeler, J., Marchant, N. and Lewington, M. (2002). Flora of the South West of Western Australia, Volume 2. Australian Biological Resources Study and University of Western Australia Press. Perth, Western Australia.