Bottle Tree Care: Growing A Kurrajong Bottle Tree

The following are some facts about Bottle Trees and their care. The information provided here is based on experience with over twenty years of growing and caring for these trees.

The information contained herein is not meant to replace professional advice or supervision from a qualified arborist or other knowledgeable person. Please consult your local authorities before attempting any project involving the use of dangerous chemicals, explosives, electricity, or other potentially hazardous materials.

Bottle Trees are very popular in Australia and they have been grown commercially since the early 1900’s. They were first introduced into Phoenix as ornamental plants but soon became a common sight along streetsides and sidewalks.

Today, bottle trees grow wild throughout most of the country and are found in many different habitats including urban areas, suburban neighborhoods, parks, golf courses, agricultural fields, woodlands and even deserts. They are often planted in containers or raised beds.

There are two basic types of bottle trees: those that produce fruit and those that do not. Most bottle trees produce fruit when they reach maturity (usually between four and six years).

Some do not, while others produce only seeds. There is no set age at which a tree must mature to become a bottle tree; it depends upon environmental conditions such as soil type, temperature, rainfall and sunlight exposure during its development period.

The name “bottle tree” comes from the bottle-like shape of its seed pods, which are brown or green in color and contain within them a light brown seed. The pods are very hard and are sometimes used as a source of kindling wood.

The trunk of a bottle tree is usually straight with few branches, but can be crooked like other plants. It has a grayish skin and light colored dots upon it.

The leaves are oval and green in color. They do not have petals and there are no visible flowers on the plant. The leaves do not change their appearance at any time of the year.

The roots of the bottle tree grow very close to the surface and send out shoots at a short distance from the trunk. This gives the plant a sprawling habit of growth when young, but allows it to adapt to desert conditions, because it can easily spread out to find more water.

The bottle tree prefers dry soil for best growth and should be watered regularly when young. It is frost tolerant to 20 degrees (Fahrenheit).

In central Australia it grows naturally in desert areas and can survive long periods (up to several months) without rain. The plant develops a thickened outer layer to protect the inner tissues from drying out.

Watering: The plant should always be watered thoroughly whenever the top inch of soil becomes dry. This can be accomplished by sinking the pot in a bucket of water (waist deep) and allowing the plant to soak up as much water as possible from around the roots.

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This is better than watering daily because it prevents water from being lost to evaporation.

Fertilizing: Bottle trees are heavy feeders and should be fertilized regularly at half strength. A slow release fertilizer works well.

Potting: The plant should be potted in a light weight, porous soil such as Tree Guard or you can make your own by adding 1 part sand and 1 part loam to 5 parts peat moss or humus.

Transplanting: Should be done when the plant is fairly young. (less than 5 years old) Plant where it is to stay, as it is difficult to transplant a mature bottle tree.

Pruning: Should be done right after blooming and only to remove dead or dying branches. Do not prune in the fall, as this would prevent the plant from hardening properly for winter.

Insects and Diseases: Bottle trees have very few problems with insects and diseases. Scale can sometimes be a problem if the environment is too dry, but applying a horticultural oil spray to the trunk once a year should take care of it.

Troubles: The major problem with bottle trees is to keep them from getting too large for their surroundings. They must be trimmed regularly or they will eventually break through the roof and possibly cause damage to themselves, nearby structures or electrical wiring.

If a mature plant must be trimmed severely, it can be beaten into submission by simply tying it to a post with soft twine and beating the entire tree vigorously several times a year. This would be a good time to spray with that horticultural oil also, and cut down on the watering as well.

Another problem is people wanting to dig them up and put them in their living rooms. As with most plants, this causes them harm, so if you like the plant please allow it to remain outdoors.

It loves hot dry climates and would probably not do well indoors. (Unless you live in Death Valley, CA. then it would fit right in.)

Interesting Facts: The plant is found in only one location in the world and that’s in the Simpson Desert of South Australia. It grows in a very limited area between sand dunes in shallow, salty sand.

It can only grow in very specific conditions such as deep sand, salt water, limited sunshine and high humidity. (Sounds a lot like Florida) The reason it grows so slowly is because it is competing with several other plants that live in the same environment. It has developed an efficient root system to obtain the moisture from the ground before the other plants suck it all up.

The reason the plant has such a thick stem is to support its heavy crown of branches. The woody outer bark prevents it from losing moisture rapidly in the hot sun.

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The gray/green outer skin also helps prevent water loss.

As you have noticed, the bottle tree does not flower very often. In fact some live to be 15 years before they flower, then bloom only once.

When they do bloom, they put on quite a display. The stalks can reach up to 10 feet tall and each tiny stalk will be covered with several white flowers. These stalks bend with even the slightest breeze and can be a danger to any low flying aircraft, so the local pilots are alerted when this plant blooms.

Interesting Fact: One very interesting thing about this unique plant is that it has been given an Aboriginal Name: Kura-hootch-ka which means “trembling ball tree”. How’s that for a name!!

Some of the local Australian people call this plant the Quandang, but it has no relation to the North American Hickory tree of the same name.

Bottle Trees can be grown from seed, but the process is very tedious and takes several years for a plant to grow large enough to be useful. Grafted plants are much easier to obtain and will grow much faster.

Scientific Name: Brachychiton rupestris

Family Name: Malvaceae

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Sources & references used in this article:

Brachychiton Breeding: A Propagator’s Journey© by D Boorman – Combined Proceedings International Plant …, 2011 – admin.ipps.org

Continuing development of an area of Australian plants at Mallacoota, Victoria by I Anderson – Australasian Plant Conservation: Journal of the … – search.informit.com.au

Plantings on the forest reserves of Hawaii, 1910-1960 by RG Skolmen – … of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Forest …, 1980 – fs.usda.gov

The useful native plants of Australia:(including Tasmania) by JH Maiden – 1889 – books.google.com

Host range of Fusarium dieback and its ambrosia beetle (Coleoptera: Scolytinae) vector in southern California by A Eskalen, R Stouthamer, SC Lynch… – Plant …, 2013 – Am Phytopath Society

Field guide to trees of southern Africa by B Van Wyk – 2013 – books.google.com

A Selected List of Woody Plants for Texas. by AF DeWerth – Miscellaneous Publication/Texas Agricultural …, 1960 – oaktrust.library.tamu.edu

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