Appealing Lilly Pillys
Humans tend to view trees from either an aesthetic or functional perspective. Is it well shaped, does it have beautiful flowers or edible fruit or is its timber of commercial value? But trees have much more significance than this. They are a vital part of the environment, without which much of the life on land would not be sustained. During daylight they convert carbon dioxide from the air and water from the soil into carbohydrates in the elegant chemical cycle of photosynthesis. These are then processed into the other essential chemicals of life – proteins, lipids, vitamins etc. The waste product of photosynthesis is oxygen which is needed by all animals to survive. A large variety of animals use different parts of the tree as a food source (shoots, leaves, flowers, fruit or seed) and in turn provide food for other animals. Yet others utilise the tree as nesting or perching sites.
From an aesthetic point of view lilly pillys are very appealing with their attractive shape, lustrous green foliage, the new growth often pink, flowers of constellations of creamy-white stamen and brightly coloured fruit. Functionally the fruit is edible not just for a range of birds and mammals, but for us. There are about 50 species of Syzygium in Australia that occur naturally in tropical and sub-tropical rainforests from the Kimberly region, across the top of Northern Territory and down the east coast to northern New South Wales. Most of these species, from shrubs to tall trees in their natural environment, are very tolerant of a range of soil types and are very attractive ornamental trees in the garden.
The riberry (Syzygium luehmannii) is a medium sized tree with an average height of 6 – 8m and width of 4 – 6m in cultivation. It prefers full or partial sun. Since it is fast growing with a dense habit when young, it makes an excellent screening tree or can be pruned as a hedge. The fruit, which matures between December and February, is pear-shaped and red with a cranberry-like flavour that makes excellent jam and cordial.
The blue lilly pilly (Syzygium oleosum) is another adaptable species that grows in any well drained soil. It can grow to 15m with dense foliage commonly retained to ground level, resulting in a pyramid-shaped tree. Once established it will survive extended dry periods. The mid-sized elliptical leaves are loaded with oil dots and give off a lemony aroma when crushed. The fruit, which ranges in colour from pink to purple, has a delicious crisp taste.
The scrub cherry (Syzygium austral) is another lilly pilly that can be hedged, although it forms a beautiful specimen tree that grows to 15m in cultivation. This tree has large, pleasantly crisp pink/red fruit that can be eaten raw or used to make jams and jellies.