Golden Penda (Xanthostemon)
This is one of my favourite trees. Rather than a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, it’s more like a mountain of gold. The Xanthostemon chrysanthus or Golden Penda has got to be one of the most spectacular native plants we can grow in South East Queensland.
There are over 45 Xanthostemon species throughout South East Asia and some pacific Islands, with Australia sporting 13 of them from the tropical and sub-tropical regions of Queensland and the Northern Territory. It is a member of the Myrtaceae family, related to the Gums, Bottle Brush’s and Tea Trees.
Apart from being a well shaped tree, the Golden Penda also gets covered in a mass of florescences of golden flowers with long stamens. Xanthostemon means Golden Stamen. These puff balls can measure up to 200mm across. Its flowering time is inconsistent, bursting into bloom at anytime except spring and may flower several times in the year if the conditions are right. These flowers are a bountiful supply of nectar for many birds.
The foliage is very attractive, changing from the multi-lobed juvenile leaf to a simple elliptical shape as the tree matures. Selection of your plant is important as the form of this tree can vary greatly. If you are chasing a feature tree in a lawn or garden bed, then go for a multi stemmed plant. Otherwise the single, straight stem is well suited to rainforest plantings, pruned garden features and street tree plantings.
Examples found in natural rainforests can reach heights of 15 metres. In cultivation this is more likely to be 6-8 metres. One recent cultivar ‘Fairhill Gold’ will only grow to a height of 3 metres and a spread of 2 metres.
It needs rich well drained soil with plenty of available water. Boggy or damp clay conditions will result in the roots rotting and dry conditions will result in a sparse and spindly specimen.
Propagation can be achieved from seed picked at the end of summer. This method is easy enough with no special treatment necessary, but the young plant develops slowly. Alternatively, semi-hardwood cuttings taken from a healthy specimen are likely to achieve flowering years in advance of the seed grown plants.
Xanthostemon are not bothered by many pests or diseases. Scale is the most common in our region and it is most noticeable on young plants. A spraying with Pest Oil will clear up any infestation.
There are other useful varieties for the home garden. Xanthostemon verticillatus is a slow growing small tree which can tolerate wet feet. ‘Little Penda’ is a very popular form of this plant in the domestic landscape as it only grows to about 1m X 1m. Xanthostemon whitei (Red Penda) is a tree to 8-15 metres with white flowers, the red in the name relates to the colour of the new foliage. Some variegated cultivars are available but these are usually much slower growing.
The timber from the Golden Penda is hard and was used by the indigenous population to make spears and shields but I would rather see the plant growing and flowering. Its presence always lets me know I live in paradise.