Gordonia axillaris has the common name fried egg tree – and it’s not hard to see why, especially as the flat, white flowers with their generous yellow centres don’t die on the tree, but fall and land face up on the ground beneath. As you might guess from the flowers, camellias are closely related. Almost the nicest thing about this tree, for me, is that it flowers in winter – plus the evergreen leaves develop red tips in the colder seasons.
Native to southern China, G. axillaris grows to about 3-5m high and wide. It can be pruned to promote bushiness. The genus is named for James Gordon, an 18th-century London nurseryman; while some of the flowers grow in the leaf axils, hence the species name, axillaris.
The Burke’s Backyard website (Australia) recommends planting in full sun to part shade in well-drained, slightly acidic soil. Fertilise in spring with azalea and camellia food or any all-round fertiliser.
There are about 40 species in the Gordonia family, with only two not native to Asia.
A cousin to Gordonia, the deciduous US native Franklinia alatamaha (Franklin tree, named for Benjamin Franklin) has been extinct in the wild since 1803 – the only member of that family. Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens has one specimen growing on in its nursery. Read more about the Franklin tree here by the always-entertaining Tim Entwisle.