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By Roger Boddaert
Special to the Village News 

Silk floss trees provide fall color, California style


Last updated 11/26/2018 at 9:13am

Roger Boddaert photos

Pink orchid-like flowers on a silk floss tree provides autumn color in Fallbrook

Many people ask me about fall-colored foliage trees like back east. They usually are referring to the blazing hardwood forest that is glowing with all shades of yellow, reds, orange intermingled with evergreen trees around the perimeter of the wooded areas at this time of year.

Well, we might not have those exact autumn-foliage trees out west, but we do have our own fall colors like chorisia speciosa, the silk floss tree, that is ablaze with a colorful flowering canopy of pink to white orchid-like flowers right now, and that gives us some seasonal fall flower colors out in our western landscapes

Now is the season for these dramatic trees to really show off their splendor. They are in the sterculiaceae family which is known for the fat caudex trunks like the baobab from South Africa and brachychiton, the bottle tree from Australia.

The chorisia trees are native to Brazil and Argentina and are planted throughout the world for their tall stature, green colored branches, thorny barbs on the trunks, and their glorious flowers that are a real show-stopper in autumn.

These trees are not for the small yard and can eventually reach heights of 30-60 feet in time. Their confirmation can vary from tall, upright and erect to those that are squatty with a large spreading canopy on the mature trees.

Silk floss trees enjoy a well-drained soil without standing water and are fairly bug and disease resistant. Once established, these trees can be very drought tolerant and that is a good thing for the future in our gardens.

They are briefly deciduous, losing their leaves in late summer to early fall, and then a flush of flowers erupt high up in the canopies. You can reduce watering at the end of summer to enhance more flowers. These exotic trees do not like long hard frosts, so plant them in a warm area or near a "heat-island" around your garden setting.

I have often stated that trees are like people and no two are exactly alike, and this is proven daily when I am out visiting various gardens. The silk floss tree when in full bloom at this time of year will really catch your eye, and when they finish their flowering cycle, some of the trees will set long green seed pods which are another botanical feature to admire.

It is in those pods hanging from the trees that the black seeds are embedded in cotton-like fluffy kapok. This soft white cotton-like mass is used in South America to stuff pillows, and the bark is also used for making rope out in the wilds.

I always find it interesting when researching trees and plants from around the world how many benefits and uses have been discovered over man's history living out in nature. The indigenous people make do with what they have and are resourceful with the lands upon which they live and survive and become sustainable within their own surroundings.

If you are a real plant connoisseur and collector go plant hunting for the white flowering chorisia insignis, which is a little shy to bloom when young, for it takes some years to flower but worth the rewards of the quest

On one project I planted a grove of chorisia trees staggered with the summer flowering plumeria which were followed by autumn flowering silk floss trees. I included some large boulders in between the stand of trees, and it was quite the statement out in the landscape.

Other trees that will give some autumn color are pistacia, koelreuteria, redbuds, pomegranate, ginkgo, and liquidambars to mention a few.

So go out and look to the horizon, and once your eyes are tuned into the trees of the area, fall colors are out there in a Southern California style.

Roger Boddaert, The Tree Man of Fallbrook, can be reached for tree consultations and landscape design appointments at (760) 728-4297.


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