Tree of the moment: Grevillea robusta

I’ve been promising myself for years to photograph a Grevillea robusta when the trees are in flower and, finally, in the dying days of 2015 I got round to it!

Native to Australia, the tree’s common name is Silky Oak. Stirling Macoboy says in his handy What Tree is That? book that Grevillea robusta has been “an outstanding success as a street tree, a garden specimen and a source of hard, beautifully grained timber”, adding that it grows all over the tropical and sub-tropical world and has been mass planted for timber in Hawaii.

Kew Garden’s entry for the tree updates the situation in Hawaii, saying that the tree is now considered a serious weed, although is still used as a shade tree in coffee plantations there, as it is in Brazil and India. Grevillea robusta performs the same purpose in tea plantations in China, India and Sri Lanka. Read more here.

It’s even been given ‘weed’ status around Sydney and in the Blue Mountains in its native Australia! You can read more about that here. “It is so easy to grow from seed,” Macoboy says, “you wouldn’t think of propagating it any other way.” And therein lies its danger.

It grows to up to 50m as a tree but oddly enough, is grown as an indoor plant in temperate regions.

The tree’s flowers are attractive to nectar-feeding birds. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Grevillea family of plants was named for Charles Francis Greville (1749-1809), Earl of Warwick, Lord of the Admiralty, founder member of the Royal Horticultural Society in 1804 and vice-president of the Royal Society.

Greville, who never married, lived for a long time in London where he indulged his passion for gardening, including having glasshouses in which he grew many rare tropical plants, aided by his friendship with Sir Joseph Banks, and where he coaxed the Vanilla planifolia orchid to flower for the first time under glass, in the winter of 1806-07.

Greville Harbour forms part of D’Urville Island, at the very northern tip of the South Island (New Zealand), and was named to honour his memory  in 1820.