The End of a Flamingo Era

Not far from home there’s a very ornamentally suckering clump of that old, old thing – I was going to say ‘dear old thing’ – which we always called Cedrela.  The common name (the use of which is uncommon) is Chinese Cedar.  And the current botanical name is Toona sinensis.

There’s possibly no plant nearer to sporting true flamingo pink, unless perhaps it’s Magnolia campbellii.  But with Cedrela (I’m sticking with my old name, for no reason other than familiarity), it’s the leaves that produce the colour, immediately upon emerging from winter dormancy.

I’m always in two minds about Cedrela.  I can’t help but think that there must be a sensational way of using it, though it’s safe to say it hasn’t been discovered yet.  It’s only ever used as an individual plant in older gardens, so rarely achieves anything more than curiosity value.  I’d love to try it on a massive scale, preferably over a whole hillside, dotted unevenly throughout a huge planting of smaller trees.

The pink is totally crazy, just for a few weeks.  After that you forget about it until next year.  Come to think of it, it’s not quite that simple.  The pink becomes infused with silver initially – a characteristic which if you wanted to celebrate you’d consider its George Clooney phase, and if you wanted to condemn, you’d suggest that it looks like it’s in an advanced stage of two-spotted mite infestation.  I’d probably err on the side of positivity and lean towards the former.

But there’s no talking up the next stage, which can’t be described as anything more flattering than jaundice yellow.  No pics of that, as we’re not at that stage yet in Woodend.  Mercifully that quickly evolves into a straight green, and then you forget about it until next year.

But the real point of all this (which I’m getting slower at getting around to) is that I can’t remember the last time I saw a Cedrela being planted.  All of the plants I know are old.  Hence my nearly saying (actually I said I nearly said it, so that means I did say it) that ‘dear old thing’.  Cedrela is one of those plants that may never be planted again.  This is not a matter of it simply being out of fashion.  It’s more about there being fewer and fewer contexts for a plant like this given the shrinking of gardens, the shrinking desire for plant diversity for its own sake in the average gardener, and perhaps most alarming of all, the rapidly shrinking range of plants available in nurseries.

There’s heaps of such plants.  And it’s not just happening here.  I went through a dilute fetish for Prunus mume (flowering apricot) a few years back (love that fantastically innocent mid-winter scent), and it occurred to me that I’d possibly never seen a young plant of it in my entire life.  There were only two forms listed as available in Australia, while the Plant Finder in the UK showed a reduction of something like 30 or 40 forms to just 12 in a matter of a couple of years.  I’ve just looked again.  It’s now down to three.

Cedrela used as effectively as I’ve seen it – as a suckering clump amongst other things. No doubt the owners hate its suckering nature, but like so many other plants, it’s only validated by repetition

There’s so many plants I never seem to see anywhere but in old gardens, and even then, rarely.  My first thoughts are for plants like Justicia carnea (which we sometimes called Jacobinia), the shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeana) and the marmalade bush (Streptosolen jasmesonii).  I admit I have very occasionally seen the latter for sale, but haven’t seen it used in years.  Come to think of it, these may be much more used and available in slightly more tropical climes in Australia, but they were once common in Melbourne gardens.  And what’s happened to the various forms of dwarf blossom, like Prunus glandulosa or Prunus tenella?  I spotted several forms of the former at Burnley the other day, but can’t remember seeing them for sale for at least 20 years

What plants – once common – do you mourn the loss of?

 

While checking on my spelling of the various names for this plant, I discovered that it’s used as a vegetable in China, where the young leaves are cooked up and provide an oniony flavor.  So while I was out taking pics for this, I grabbed a leaf and chewed on it.  I’d call it more like chewing on a raw spring onion, and now I can’t shake the taste.  Wonder if the colour survives cooking?

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15 thoughts on “The End of a Flamingo Era

  1. Hi, I live the NSW (Blue Mountains). My next door neighbour has this plant. For years I just admired it then 3 years ago I asked if I could have some of the smaller plants (my wonderful neighbour said yes) We both have different ways of planting this. Her is in a clump and left to grow wild and free (well over 10 mts tall and still growing upwards & outwards). Mine are planted in a single row besides my garage with a gravel topping (so easy to watch for new suckers). As new little suckers grow where I don’t want them too I just pluck them off. Last year we had a nasty big snow fall (out of season) and some snapped midway down the trunk. So I tried to find any info on this plant as we both didn’t know its name or anything about it. But have only found its names this late spring. I cut them all down to about 2 mts tall after the snow fall so no more would be damaged, then I just hoped for the best. Spring/Summer 2016/17 they were beautiful. New branches out of the main trunk. They were so bushy this year. This year once all the leave stems have dropped off I will be doing a controlled cut back. Will try and remember to take some pic’s of what is happening.

  2. I was so excited to discover the cereal on a trip to bright victoria in October , I was gob smacked at the bright Illuminous pink splashes of colour around the hill side .I then spent the next week hunting down a plant to no avail .A lovely local allowed us to raid he garden and take home 13 sucker plants , threw them in a hot car and drove 6 hours home to the coast , shoved them in some potting mix and watered them every day .3 months later they have doubled there size only lost 2 , so I’m so excited , I’m in love with these trees.My son has just started a nursery in wyong and will be cultivating and sell these tree .we can’t let these beautiful plant become rare and endangered.

  3. I just purchased a cedrela today from a nursery in bendigo to plant in my slowly developing garden in a rural setting. It is a very harsh environment but i am hoping that i can nurture it enough to see it develop into the beautiful tree that it appears to be. I am planting it behind a couple of rusted laser cut screens out in my garden to frame the screens. If anyone has any hints on training its growth, i would love to know. Or maybe i shouldnt prune it?

  4. Hi Michael. No Plantmark at Kellyville don’t have Cedrela but one of our local nurseries, The Bay Tree Nursery in Mt Victoria NSW regularly stocks it. The one Claudia mentioned is located in Blue Mist, an old garden designed and planted by Paul Sorenson on a very narrow and steep site (which will be open during 2014 Leura Garden Festival). In our garden we have two weeping Apricots and there is another in a neighboring garden, all planted as young, grafted trees bought up by Plantmark from Victoria. As one of the harbingers of Spring with its delightful abundance of perfumed blossom, we couldn’t be without them.

  5. Cedrela is the first tree I ever fell in love with, seen in a Leura garden in October 1982. I have never seen it as a thicket of suckers, but this suggest to me the idea of growing it as a clump that is stooled every year, possibly resulting in larger leaves, as with Cotinus.
    I agree totally about the shrinking range of plants available in nurseries. There are so many wonderful plants I only ever see in older gardens. Most gardeners are happy to let you have a piece and I often swap with friends and buy from smaller nurseries online. If I had to rely on my local nurseries, I would die of boredom among the Buxus..

  6. Hi Michael, reading your post while in Woodstock, Vermont, on vacation and there is plenty Cedrela here in the US which is still coloured, well I’m pretty sure that is the name of the plant I’m seeing. Totally agree with older variety plants not being planted, a real shame. Bulleen Art & Garden are a great nursery who do continue to stock older variety of plants. I always check there first when I’m in search if a not so popular plant.

  7. Hi Michael,

    I’m thrilled to see the Cedrela and you really don’t need to sound apologetic ! There is a Cedrela here in a Leura garden that is fantastic and I want to get one myself. Your pictures show how effective it can look as a lower plant and , as you yourself recently said, such colours depend on what’s around them. I found that to be a good reminder for anything, especially when one gets carried away at a nursery by some bright plant.
    thanks for a very interesting post. Myles’ use of a Cedrela woodland sounds amazing.

    • It’ll be interesting to find out how hard it is to get, Claudia. As Myles says, Yamina have it, just as I’d expect. They used to deal through PlantMark here in Vic. Don’t know if they send / ever sent stock to Kellyville.

      • Hi Michael.
        When I married my husband and moved in to the family home, I fell in love with the Cedrela trees growing down the side of the house. This was in Glenhuntly Vic.
        Time passed and so did my husband. I remarried a man who is constantly moved around the country. I have always eagerly looked for Cedrela trees as I have driven around. Now I am settled in Pakenham I found one in a nursery in the Dandenongs. I am planting it in the front garden in the prime position for this much loved tree.

  8. Streptosolen is pretty common on Sydney’s north side and I have both those Justicia in my garden. And a white Prunus glandulosa, although as it flowers for a full 5 minutes, I’d take that one out if I had the will to tackle its suckering, woody clump.
    I’ve seen Cedrela in Sydney a few times too but anything that spreads vigorously by suckers is, as you say, going to be an issue in a suburban garden. What I miss are the original species forms of plants. Once an allegedly better new cultivar (but usually only better marketed) comes along, that’s all you seem able to buy for ever after, like Loropetalum chinense, which is now only in cultivar pink.

    • The pic of Cedrela suckering here is, in my experience, unusual. I know that it does sucker a little, but more often than not you see it as an individual specimen. I reckon what’s happened here is that an old tree has been chopped out, or a large area of roots around an old plant has been disturbed and damaged.
      Have you tried hacking the Prunus back immediately after flowering – right to the ground – and seen whether its capable of flowering the following year? I’d love to know if its possible. That way you wouldn’t have any of the branching, congested growth at all.

  9. Hey Michael,

    I think Cedrela is on the comeback trail. I’ve just planted a woodland of them amongst a raw concrete bunker style office building in North Melbourne. They still have it down at Yamina. Pleased to see someone else likes it too!

    • Sounds amazing Myles. When you think about it, there’s just so few trees of this form – plenty of vertical substance but minimal lateral spread. And there’s something fabulous about how tall they’ll often go before any branching – totally perfect for the setting you’ve placed them in. I’d love to see it.

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