Peter Valder looked at one of the very best small trees for Australian conditions.
Common name: Gordonia, fried egg plant
Botanic name: Gordonia axillaris (renamed Franklinia axillaris, but still known and sold as Gordonia axillaris)
The genus name, Gordonia, commemorates James Gordon, an eighteenth-century London nurseryman. Some of the flowers grow in the leaf axils, hence the species name, axillaris.
Some botanists think that gordonias should be included in the genus Franklinia, which was named in honour of the famous American statesman, philosopher and scientist, Benjamin Franklin (1706-90). The genus Franklinia only contains one species, Franklinia alatamaha, a rare plant in Australia which is best suited to cool areas with warm summers.
An evergreen tree with a height and spread of 3-5m (10-15′). It has dark, glossy, green leaves and creamy-white flowers with crimped petals and golden stamens. Gordonias belong to the Theaceae, or tea family, and the flowers resemble those of the closely related camellia. However, gordonia flowers do not go brown on the plant. Instead, they drop off and land on the ground with the stamens facing upwards, resembling a carpet of ‘fried eggs’.
Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane. Protect young plants from frosts.
excellent small tree for the home garden specimen tree street tree screen, when pruned to promote bushiness
large white flowers (10cm or 4″ across) with prominent golden stamens long flowering (from autumn to spring) glossy, dark green leaves with red tips in winter dappled, orange/brown bark easy to grow virtually pest and disease free
The fallen flower carpet under or around the plant may worry some people – but this should be seen as a plus as it gives a decorative effect. Gordonias are slow growing when young (so buy an advanced plant if you want a tree in a hurry).
Gordonias like a position in full sun to part shade, with well drained, slightly acidic soils. Lightly tip prune after flowering if a bushy shrub is desired. Fertilise in spring with azalea and camellia food or any all round fertiliser. Mulch around the root area to stop competition from weeds (or from surrounding grass if grown in a lawn).
Gordonias are available at nurseries all year round, but particularly in autumn when they are in flower. 200mm (8″) pots cost around $17, and advanced plants in 400mm (16″) pots are priced at about $95. If hard to find, try a specialist camellia nursery such as Camellia Grove at 238 Mona Vale Road, St Ives, 2075. Phone: (02) 9144 3402. They can also be grown from seed, by layering, or from semi-hardwood cuttings taken in late summer or autumn. The Franklin tree (Franklinia alatamaha) is available at rare plant nurseries such as:
Yamina Rare Plants
25 Moores Rd
Monbulk, VIC, 3793
Phone: (03) 9756 6335
Dicksonia Rare Plants
341 Mt Macedon Rd
Mt Macedon, VIC, 3441
Phone: (03) 5426 3075