Gardening Articles by Russell Fransham
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I like saying that... its like sneezing.
Much more memorable than the old name, Acmena, and more mysterious than the other not so old name, Eugenia.
They're a huge, sprawling, confused family, the Syzygiums, (over five hundred species), and much given to changing names. I hate that.. just when I get my head around a tree's name it changes again.
There were several other names before those last two, but we won't go there.
There are even a few New Zealand members of the family.
But new to NZ is the stunning Syzygium wilsonii from North Queensland, a weeping rainforest shrub with the biggest and most spectacular flowers of them all. They hang from the branch tips, a shimmering claret red spangled with gold pollen. The young leaves are the same luscious red, turning coppery then green as they mature. And it grows here just fine in a sheltered semi-shaded spot. Think rainforest margin.
Its strongly weeping form makes it ideal to cascade over a wall or from a tall pot. Most of the Syzygiums are Australians. They're mainly rainforest trees with glossy evergreen foliage and cascades of brightly coloured fruit and bristly flowers like pale pohutukawa blossom.
They are in fact related to our pohutukawa.
The young shoots of most of them emerge vividly coloured in shades of pink, lilac, copper or red, before fading to shiny green. My other favourite is the Riberry, Syzygium luehmannii, outstanding for its delicacy of form and striking colour. It is an elegant, weeping tree reaching 3 to 4 metres in a few years, the densely layered foliage flowing right to the ground. But its the new leaf colour that knocks your socks off.
Flushes of new growth emerge a vivid lilac-pink, which fades through coppery tones to green, and it keeps happening most of the year. The riberry has white fluffy flowers followed by massed scarlet berries in late Summer, but the main event is really that outrageous, bodgie pink of the new leaves. Its splashing hot colour and delicate layered form make it a perfect courtyard specimen, and a delightful foil to the stark bold shapes of many subtropical plants.
Be warned: growing Syzygiums can become an addiction once you get started.
P/S Incidentally, I once heard a rude friend describe a sneeze as a face orgasm. Syzygium. Syzygium.. Say it quietly, in the privacy of your own garden.
(Copyright Russell Fransham 2003)