Ivory curl

Ivory curl

When driving through Brisbane suburbs in late summer and autumn it is impossible to miss the magnificent displays of ivory curl (Buckinghamia celsissima) trees along streets and in gardens. Long, pendant spikes up to 27cm long of cream, spidery flowers are produced on the ends of branches. Individual flowers, densely clustered along the axis, are sweet smelling and full of nectar which attracts birds, bees, butterflies and other insects which in turn attract insect-eating birds. The ovary of each flower develops into a fruit which, when mature, slits open along one side to release up to six small brown seeds. Both the flowers and the fruit are similar to those of the Grevillea, to which this tree is related. Even when not in flower, this is an attractive plant. The young leaves, which have a bronze tinge and are deeply lobed, mature into an elliptical shape about 20 cm long that is dark green above and lighter below. It has an attractive, dense, umbrella shape that requires little pruning unless height restriction is required.

The ivory curl is indigenous to rainforests of north-eastern Queensland. In its natural habitat, the tree can grow to 30 m in order to emerge through the canopy to reach the light needed for flowering. In cultivation, however, the height seems to be determined by climate, reaching about 8 m in warmer regions but decreasing with drop in temperature so that in Melbourne it is more like a shrub.

Although ivory curl tolerates a wide range of soils, it grows best in areas with good drainage that have been supplemented with high levels of compost. It benefits from maintaining moisture levels until established, after which it is dry tolerant. Ivory curl will grow in full sun or partial shade but the flowering is limited by high levels of shade. Plants usually flower after 3 years. This species is, however, frost tender when young. Ivory curl makes a stunning feature plant, can be mass planted as a screen or wind break or as a backdrop to mixed shrub garden beds. It has been used successfully in erosion control and is playground friendly.

Buckinghamia celsissima
Buckinghamia celsissima. Photograph by Roman Buzianczuk.

Back to Paten’s Manuscripts