Dombeya cacuminum


Dombeya cacuminum


Strawberry Snowball Tree

We have a tree from Madagascar described in some books as one of the most outstanding flowering trees of the world. It is just coming into flower here. The tree is called Dombeya cacuminum, commonly called overseas “The Strawberry Snowball Tree” The tree is named after Joseph Dombey an 18th century French botanist, doctor and explorer. The genus is included in the Byttneriaceae family – a recent division of the Sterculiaceae family. The cocoa tree belongs in this family.

This winter flowering tree, with large maple-like leaves, is not very common in New Zealand but it grows well here, in five years giving a handsome tree about 8 metres high. At this age it starts to flower and this is its talking point—large clusters of coral red or pinky- red 6-7cm flowers in clusters of ten to fifteen up to 30cm across which hang from the end of the branches. From a distance the tree appears to have patchy red colour but when you look up inside the tree it is a sight to behold especially if there is a blue sky background. Yellow pollen dusts the edges of the petals. Interestingly this Dombeya is one of the few plants which doesn’t hold its pollen on the stamens but instead the pollen drops off and onto the petals where it then transfers to the bird getting nectar and is transported on to the next flower and stigma. Tuis visit regularly for the nectar. An interesting habit is that the flowers drop before they dry and brown off so a red carpet of flowers spreads under the tree.

Plant this beauty in full sun in soils that are at least reasonably free draining. They seem to be tolerant of our droughts though the tree that gets regular watering will grow a bit faster. The tree will stand light frost. Sometimes multi trunked trees can develop. If so, prune to the strongest one to give a wind sturdy, single trunked tree. The trees are fast growing and get large so plenty of space is needed.