Joseph Banks and the Bottlebrush Tree

10 Feb

During our wanderings around San Diego this past Christmas, we came across many striking trees with bright red, cylindrical flowers that looked like bottle brushes. I was delighted to see them, but they made me feel a bit homesick. Not for Maryland, which has been home for more than a decade now, but for Australia, where we lived for four wonderful years and where these trees are very popular.

They are Crimson Bottlebrushes (Callistemon citrinus)–a shrubby evergreen plant native to Australia that can grow to about 15 feet. It is a plant that loves warm climates with lots of sun, which explains why it is also well suited to Southern California. How it got to the United States, I don’t know, but Joseph Banks, an English naturalist/botanist, introduced it to England in the 18th century. Banks was a member of Captain James Cook’s voyage on the Endeavour (1768-1771), travelling to Madeira, Brazil, Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, and what is now Indonesia. Banks later became an unofficial advisor to King George  III on the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, and ships returning to England from far and wide brought back plants for his collections. As a result, Kew Gardens became a pre-eminent botanical garden, introducing many of these plants to the rest of Europe.

As for the bottlebrush, it is greatly admired by humans and hummingbirds alike, as I discovered when walking up to the tree to take a photo. I realized at the very last second that a hummingbird was closing in on the flower I had targeted. Had I had my wits about me, I might have taken a better photo (see last photo below), but time and reflexes were not on my side.

Though I cannot grow bottlebrushes in Maryland, I have at least preserved a small but very fond memory of Australia in these photographs, by way of San Diego.

 
        

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