When spring growth is happening, it is time for our Acrocarpus fraxinifolius (leaves are similar to Fraxinus, the Ash tree) to start flowering again. This tree is not very common in New Zealand but could be grown more often, in frost free areas, as a timber tree as well as an ornamental.
Belonging to the Fabaceae or Bean family it comes from India, China, Myanmar, Borneo, Sumatra, Indonesia, Vietnam and Bangladesh.
In its natural habitat Acrocarpus are pioneer plants, the seeds of which germinate and grow quickly when a hole appears in the canopy. It needs full sun, although when young it can stand light shade. Over time this large growing tree develops a clean trunk supported by wonderful buttress roots.
Although tropical, this tree is deciduous over the winter months and in the spring, new leaves appear with the bisexual flowers at the ends of the branches.
Although it is a legume the flowers appear in bottlebrush spikes and the individual flower is not at all pea-like. The flowers are scarlet red and drip with nectar when they open. Tuis and Waxeyes regularly visit the flowers and the tree is regarded as a good source of nectar for bees.
Small pods set after pollination and are ripe in about six weeks although I haven’t seen any on my tree yet.
To do well the tree likes free draining moist soils but can stand much harder conditions.
The timber is hard and strong and resembles ash or walnut, the heart wood being bright red to brownish-red with darker veins through it. It is very decorative and is good for turnery, carving and polishing. It is used inside for panelling, furniture, cabinet work etc but outside it needs to be treated for it to last e.g. when used as railway sleepers. Overseas the trees are used for erosion control, shade for tea and coffee, reclamation work, ornamentals etc and the leaves make good mulch.