Encyclopedia of Stanford Trees, Shrubs, and Vines

Brachychiton acerifolius. FLAME TREE. New South Wales, Queensland
STERCULIACEAE (Sterculia family)

A flame tree planted in 1891 in the outer northwest island of the Inner Quad was famous for the brilliant display it put on in May-June, covering the ground with a mantle of red bells. In most years only part of a flame tree blooms, but even this is striking, as the leaves all drop off in the flowering zone. Every few years the whole of the big flame tree burst into glorious bloom and the ground was red with the waxy bells, which are good for leis. The leaves themselves are handsome, large, and of several different shapes. After a wind, black boat-shaped pods fall and the seeds can be extracted from a brittle honeycomb structure. If sown in moist peat moss they begin to germinate after six weeks or so. Extraordinarily beautiful photographs of the blossoms have appeared in Stanford magazine (1978 Fall/Winter). A flame tree flowering alongside a jacaranda is a marvel to behold. Jacarandas have been started in the Inner Quad and flame trees should be tried in more locations when opportunity permits.

There is no doubt that the flame tree is frost sensitive, and the Inner Quad specimen ultimately succumbed. But it performed nobly for over 100 years and was replaced in the same sheltered spot in 1998; by 2003 the new tree was over 20 feet high and 9 inches in diameter. Another example was planted in the Arizona Garden in June 2003, behind the bench, and is being hand-watered by garden coordinator Christy Smith. Occasional trees are found in the neighborhood, for example at 416 O'Keefe Street, Menlo Park. It was planted in 1958 and was 2 feet in diameter and 40 feet high by 2003. Illustration, see frontispiece. See also the cover.

Other campus Brachychitons: Brachychiton acerifolius | Brachychiton discolor | Brachychiton populneus | Brachychiton rupestris

Illustrations: habit | crimson flowers, 8/20/05, fall to ground like snow flakes | ripening fruit 9/12/05

Additions/Revisions: The Arizona Garden planting was removed in October, 2008, its trunk chewed by squirrels killing the trees.

Name derivation, genus | species: from Greek, brachys, short and chiton, a tunic, a reference to the coating on the seed | maple-like leaf

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