The Fire Tree at La Bonita
Updated: Nov 22, 2018
Maybe it's the bright orange-golden blossoms or the flame-shaped leaves, but the Spanish name for this Australian Silver-oak (Grevillea robusta) is the FIRE TREE. It is actually native to Australia and although it's called by the term "oak" it's not really a true Oak because it produces no acorns. It is very adaptable to different climates and soil types and can tolerate both drought and frost.
We planted this tree six years ago to celebrate the fact that a close girlfriend was visiting from Australia. It made me smile to see it blossoming last week as we held our first art workshop 'An Andalusian Sketchbook' with @julie_sajous_artist. Two of our visitors turned out to be Aussies!
The Fire Tree is a fast-growing semi-evergreen tree. It has large shallow roots that will grow towards the water and can become a problem if they are growing too close to buildings or pipes.
Its blooms, like others of its genus, have no petals and are perfect for honey production. They produce plenty of nectar so they're very attractive to birds, bees, and other insects. In fact, the flowers are actually flowerheads made up of around 100 small flowers. Once fully open, they produce large amounts of pollen before a seed capsule is produced. On some of the branches, there are so many flowers that the tree itself takes on a yellow and red flame color. The wood of the Fire Tree is used for making guitars because of its tonal and aesthetic qualities. Before the advent of aluminium, Grevillea robusta timber was widely used for external window joinery, as it is resistant to wood rot. It's also been used in the manufacture of furniture, cabinetry, and fences.
There is one downside to this tree if you're a fussy gardener who likes a tidy lawn...it sheds leaves and drips maple-like sap. We don't mind at La Bonita because leaves on the ground are to be encouraged. On top of that, the seed fruits (which appear later in the year once it's pollinated) contain hydrogen cyanide which is pretty toxic and can cause contact dermatitis if you touch them with your bare hands. It's even been used as rat, and in some cases in the past, human poison. Isn't Nature clever?