Thursday, June 19, 2008

Embothrium coccineum

Plant Of The Week #4, Chilean Fire Tree

Fits in perfectly with my neighbor's Spanish style house

Embothrium coccineum. I love this tree. Ginger loves this tree. Probably not as much as I do though, because I'm the plant nerd. I first discovered this plant as a college Junior while taking Landscape Plant ID by the famous Professor Matsuo Tsukada. The great professor was an 80 year old Japanese man who at the time was more spry and energetic than most of the slacker UW students taking his classes. This 4 hour long, 3 day a week class consisted of 30 students following Tsukada as he ran from plant to plant in the Washington Park Arboretum or all over campus. He was a living botanical encyclopedia and well-respected by the students, I think mostly because of his enthusiam for teaching us about the idiosyncrasies of plants. He was tough to understand sometimes, you know, in all of the excitement of running up a 45 degree slope and shouting down the hill pointing to some tree while trying to spit out "Youuuuu should knooooow that dis plant veeeerrryyy important. It has three [indecipherable botanical word], surrounded by five [indecipherable botanical word] and uuuuused for [indecipherable word] by maaaaaannnny people." He was a great man.

But the fire tree was not on his list, it was not a plant we had to memorize. Probably due to its rarity in the landscape generally although I see more and more around Seattle as its popularity grows. Back in the Arboretum I saw the fire-orange blooms covering the 30' tree from tip to toe and just had to investigate. Years later I would return to the same tree every spring just to see the blooms. Then years later still, Ginger and I returned again to collect seeds and now we have 5 of our own Chilean fire trees growing out on the back patio in clay pots. They're too young to bloom yet but one of my neighbors has one, so I get to enjoy his every night that we walk past when we "G-o on Lola's w-a-l-k."

Sometimes a large tree to 50', sometimes a multi-trunked shrub to 20'; leaves can be either deciduous or evergreen (ours seem to be evergreen) oblong, somewhat shiny, and sort of a dusty yellow-green. The showy bright orange to red flowers emerge in late May and last a month. Hummingbirds love them. This tree needs good drainage, is drought tolerant, likes acid soil and needs to be protected from freezing wind. USDA Zones 8-11. They seem to like to be left alone, so plant one and don't fuss with it. I'm not sure how old they need to be to bloom. Probably 5 years in the ground would be my guess.

Our "baby" Fire Trees

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