Illawarra Flame Tree

Australian Flame Tree

Brachychiton acerifolius
  • DIVISION: Tracheophyta (vascular plants)
  • CLASS: Magnoliopsida (dicotyledons)
  • ORDER: Malvales  
  • FAMILY: Malvaceae
  • GENUS: Brachychiton       
  • SPECIES: acerifolius


Spectacular in bloom, Australian flame trees are native to seasonal rainforests of eastern Australia. Reaching heights of 110 feet (33.5 meters), they top the canopy with a glorious blaze of fiery scarlet. Their bright, waxy, flame-colored blossoms grow profusely in large clusters at the ends of bare branches, covering the whole tree and attracting native bees. Even before flower buds open, the red stems of the bloom clusters command attention. Look for bloom in late spring or early summer, but be aware that the Australian flame tree is known for blooming erratically. Some years, flowers may only appear on some branches. And some years, a tree may bloom later in the summer.


This tree's leathery, green leaves vary in shape and in size. Young plants grow deeply lobed leaves, while older trees grow leaves that are shallowly lobed or even oval. Either way, Australian flame trees are deciduous; leaves fall off in spring, before the trees bloom. Flowers are one-inch, waxy, scarlet bells that grow in large, suspended clusters at the ends of bare branches. Fruits are 4-inch (10.2-centimeter) black seedpods that enclose masses of yellow seeds—which, individually, bear a surprising resemblance to corn kernels, although they are certainly not closely related.


While largely subtropical, Australian flame trees are quite hardy in temperate climates too, although they don't grow as tall—about 60 feet (18.3 meters). Young trees are susceptible to frost damage, but mature trees can tolerate temperatures down to 25 degrees Fahrenheit (-3.8 degrees Celsius). Established trees don't require much water, and they can endure heat and wind. If you plant a tree from seed, you can expect your first flowers in about eight years.

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The best time to see Australian flame trees in bloom at the Zoo is during late spring and early summer. Look for these impressive trees by the giraffes, the bus station, Tiger River Trail, Lory Loop, and Australian Outback.


The name for the Australian flame tree, acerifolius, refers to the similarity of its lobed leaves to those of maple trees. The first part of the name, acer, is a reference to the genus name (Acer) for maple trees, and the second part of the name, folius, is Latin for "leaf." 


Down Under, you'll hear these trees called Illawarra flame trees. Illawarra is a coastal region of New South Wales, Australia.