Flindersias, bringing some history to your garden

This article is extracted from Yuruga Newsletter
Vol 10 No 3 (September 2002)

The year 2002 marked the bicentenary of the circumnavigation of Australia by Matthew Flinders in the ship Investigator.

A number of things are named after this remarkable man in memory of his work – for instance, the Flinders Ranges in South Australia, the Flinders River in Queensland, and an important group of Australian trees belonging to the genus Flindersia.

There are 16 species of Flindersia in total, occurring naturally in Queensland and into NSW. Half of these occur only in tropical Queensland and as such are an important feature of our local natural landscapes.

The Flindersias are famous timber trees and have been logged extensively since settlement, for their valuable cabinet timber. Names such as Queensland Maple, Maple Silkwood, Silver Ash, Silver Silkwood and Hickory Ash are legendary timbers of our local area.

Although one species of Flindersia (Flindersia maculosa, the beautiful native Leopard Tree of semi-arid Australia) is found on the plains of western Queensland, all other species are rainforest or dry scrub plants.

Flindersia oppositifolia

Our local Flindersias are found only in the rainforest and can be broadly divided into two groups according to their flower colour. The Scented Maple (Flindersia laevicarpa), Mountain Silkwood (Flindersia oppostitifolia) and Maple Silkwood (Flindersia pimenteliana) have showy red flowers while all the rest have white flowers. The common Queensland Maple (Flindersia brayleyana) is noted for its large heads of showy white flowers produced in early summer every year, as is the beautiful Sliver Ash (Flindersia schottiana), although the flowering of this species is more erratic and unpredictable.

The flowers of all Flindersias are followed by woody pods similar to those illustrated. They are very decorative, and make fantastic dried arrangements. Cockatoos also love them, and often chomp them to shreds high in the rainforest canopy, littering the forest floor with the chewed up and discarded remains. The size of the pods varies from species to species. Some species have quite small petite pods while others are large and heavy.

The Silver Ash (Flindersia schottiana) has pods that are particularly big and heavy and for this reason it should not be planted where the pods can drop on cars or on people’s heads due to the potential to cause damage or injury.

Now that logging of our native forests is phased out, there is a high demand for supply of seedlings of Flindersias for establishment of plantations to meet the demand for cabinet timbers in future years. Yuruga has supplied hundreds of thousands of seedlings of Queensland Maple (Flindersia brayleyana) and Northern Silver Ash (Flindersia bourjotiana) to plantations in the Wet Tropics in the last fifteen years.

Our favourite Flindersia will always be the Queensland Maple (Flindersia brayleyana), not least because our Board Room table in our office at Yuruga is carved from a magnificent piece of this timber. The Queensland Maple is also one the hardiest and easiest to grow of the tropical species, and when planted on its own forms a stately shade tree with a dense, rounded canopy.

The Flindersias are most definitely a fitting tribute to Matthew Flinders.

Flindersias of tropical Queensland:

  • Flindersia acuminata – Silver Silkwood
  • Flindersia bourjotiana – Northern Silver Ash
  • Flindersia brassii – Hard Scented Maple
  • Flindersia brayleyana – Queensland Maple
  • Flindersia ifflaiana – Hickory Ash
  • Flindersia laevicarpa – Scented Maple
  • Flindersia oppositifolia – Mountain Silkwood
  • Flindersia pimenteliana – Maple Silkwood
  • Flindersia schottiana – Silver Ash
  • Flindersia dissosperma – Leopard Ash

(Note: The use of common names is fraught with danger since most species have more than one common name, and the same common name may be applied to more than one species. For the purposes of this article we have chosen to use the most frequently used name.)

Flindersia ifflaiana (Hickory Ash)

The Hickory Ash is a beautiful large shade tree. It is very fast growing, and quite hardy in cultivation. The Hickory Ash occurs naturally in the rainforests of north Queensland from Cape York south to the Clohesy River near Kuranda, and also in New Guinea.
In cultivation, the Hickory Ash has a lovely shape and spreading crown. Large heads of white flowers are produced in profusion most years.

Flindersia pimenteliana (Maple Silkwood)

The Maple Silkwood is a really lovely, small to medium tree. It has lovely glossy foliage, and bears masses of red flowers in profusion.
The Maple Silkwood is found naturally in high rainfall rainforests in the Wet Tropics, form sea level to the clouds. Not as hardy as the Hickory Ash or Queensland Maple, it is best planted in a reasonable rainfall location, eg. Atherton to Millaa Millaa, or on the coast in the wetter belst south to about Ingham. It is not recommended for Dimbulah or Townsville, for instance.

Flindersia bourjotiana (Northern Silver Ash)

The Northern Silver Ash is a well-known timber tree. It cultivation it is a medium to large tree, suitable for wetter areas only. The Northern Silver Ash occurs all over the Wet Tropics in high rainfall areas as far north as Cooktown. Because it was a very common tree throughout most logging areas, it has been extensively cut for timber in the past.