Castanospermum australe

Castanospermum australe

Castanospermum australe

Moreton Bay Chestnut or Black Bean.

Native to eastern Queensland and north eastern New South Wales.

This tree has always interested me since I was first given a pod which had come from under the seat of an imported car in 1960. The first time I saw a tree, (it was in full flower), was at North Head near Devonport in the 1970s. This tree was about 12 metres high with a full rounded head and all the flowers were within the canopy so it gave me the feeling of being inside a dome covered with yellow and orange flowers. Very beautiful.

I planted some seed at my first house from the Devonport tree and now one of these trees is flowering well each year. There are not many trees around the country so it is always a pleasure to see one during the summer flowering time.

The Moreton Bay Chestnut (Castanospermum australe) belongs to the Legume family and this means it has pea-like flowers which look as if they have been carved out of yellow and orange wax. It also sets, with the help of symbiotic bacteria, nitrogen nodules on the roots which help to make nitrogen more available to surrounding plants.

The 3 to 5 seeds are carried in a large green, turning brown when ripe, cylindrical pod which opens to two canoe like halves at full maturity. The seeds are poisonous though Aboriginal people know how to treat them to give them a chestnut flavoured meal. For some reason seed, for all the time I have known of it, has not been allowed to be imported into New Zealand.

The tree can stand light shade or full sun. It will stand only light frost and is best in free draining, deeper soils with regular water and not fully exposed to wind.

The timber is beautiful but will not last outside.

Moreton Bay Chestnuts are used, particularly in Australia, as a glossy compound-leafed house plant which is usually grown from seed.