Spathodea campanulata may be a treasured tree in its native homeland of Africa but, in Australia, it is a tree no longer welcome.
Once a popular ornamental tree, African Tulip was widely planted in yards and along footpaths for its shady rounded canopy and showy bright orange-red flowers.
Biosecurtiy Queensland deemed the African Tulip a serious environmental weed way back in 2003 due to its aggressive growth and ability to spread into natural areas.
Its long, horn-shaped seed capsules can hold up to 500 papery seeds with transparent wings. If this is not enough, the tree also has suckering abilities.
There were consultations with the Nursery & Garden Industry Australia (NGIA) and it was agreed the tree must not be given away, sold, or released into the environment without a permit. Nurseries or market traders in Queensland that sell African Tulips may have their stock seized and destroyed, and re-offenders fined.
The Biosecurity Act 2014 requires everyone to take all reasonable and practical steps to minimise the risks associated with invasive plants and animals under their control. Councils in Queensland also have an obligation to remove African Tulips from the landscape.
“The public has become more enlightened about the importance of taking care of our native bee populations, and that is providing motivation to remove weed trees such as the African Tulip.”
Many councils are replacing them with native species as part of staged work programs in natural areas, parks and streets, and property owners are encouraged to do the same voluntarily.
Recommended non-invasive native alternatives to the African Tulip ar Stenocarpus sinuatus (Wheel of Fire) and Brachychiton acerifolius (Illawarra Flame Tree).
However, drive around Brisbane and other subtropical towns in Queensland, and the chances are you will see this tree flowering brightly. Due to climate change, it is also now found growing further south.
A spokesperson from Biosecurity Queensland said State and Territory governments each have their own process for listing plants under their biosecurity or noxious weed laws. They are currently working with the Australian Government to harmonise biosecurity arrangements due to increasing public sensitivity to the impacts exotic plants have on the functioning of natural ecosystems.
Stingless Bees Under Threat
The African Tulip tree is of particular concern to beekeepers like Bob Luttrell, better known as Bob the Beeman, as it conceals a lethal threat to our stingless bees. Bob’s website provides useful material to those likely to come across stingless bees in their work of removing or working with trees, in the hope that in some way the information will help comprised colonies to survive.
Bob said stingless bees are very much attracted to the sprays of African Tulip flowers.
“Look closer and you will see the bees gathering pollen, and seemingly imbibing other plant secretions as well as nectar.
“Unfortunately, if you continue the examination into the flowers, you will find the result of that foraging for pollen and nectar – a collection of dead and dying stingless bees and other insects.”
He said studies in Brazil, where the tree is also a problem, found that the gathered pollen did not get back to the hives. So the attracted bees are killed before they can return.
“Unfortunately the mechanism of attraction is strong and the numbers of stingless bees can be quite large in areas where stingless bees are present,” Bob said.
“I know of no other tree that flowers for such a long period, many months through the winter period, and most of the year in the tropics. That alone sets it in a league of its own. It is an attractive food source for the bees, at a time when there is not a lot of choice. The bees that are killed are the most experienced foragers, the scout bees, that look for sources of food for the colony. Because they do not get back to the colony, no warning can be developed, so the loss of bees will continue.”
Bob said the public has become more enlightened about the importance of taking care of our native bee populations, and that is providing motivation to remove weed trees such as the African Tulip.
The Gold Coast City Council recently took the educational aspect one step further by assisting a community initiative to help Australia’s native bees. It has set aside $30,000 of funds from its ‘Our Natural City’ strategy to subsidise the purchase of native bee hives city-wide. Property owners on 1200 + square metres will be eligible for $250 to go towards their hive purchase. A typical bee hive only requires maintenance every 12-18 months and the Council also runs Stingless Bee Keeping workshops.
For more information see http:// www.goldcoast.qld.gov.au/gold-coast-biosecurity-management-plan-48963.html
Did you know?
Did you know that in its natural environment in Africa, Spathodea campanulata can survive between 50 to 150 years and has many uses: light brown wood is used for manufacture of paper, drums and carving; bark is used in treatment of rashes on the skin of newly born babies, as a laxative, and an antiseptic to prevent growth and development of microorganisms; open boat-shaped pods are used as children’s toys due to their floating ability; and the trees also provide shade in coffee plantations and also as live fences.
“Insect Mortality in Spathodea campanulata” BEAUV. (BIGNONIACEAE) Flowers by Trigo. J. R. and Santos, W. F. dos Rev. Brasil. Biol., 60(3):537_538.