The Western Australian Christmas Tree, Nuytsia floribunda, is an extraordinary plant. It earns its common name from the showy profusion of orange or orangey-yellow flowers in December. This tree is all the more remarkable for being the largest parasitic plant in the world. It belongs in the Loranthaceae or Showy-mistletoe family. Like our native Mistletoe, Viscum album, it is a hemiparasite. This means that it has the ability to photosynthesise as well as stealing nutrients and water from its host.
Unlike our native Mistletoe, it stands apart from its hosts. Its extensive roots can parasitise hosts up to 110 metres away. It is not at all fussy in its choice of victim: grasses, sedges, shrubs and Eucalyptus. All succumb to its greedy haustoria that cut like vicious blades into roots. They are so sharp that they have been known to pierce underground telephone cables and cut off entire village communications. They have even clumsily cut themselves by mistake.
The Western Australian Christmas Tree is the only plant in its genus of Nuytsia. It is named after the Dutch explorer and diplomat Pieter Nuyts or Nuijts (1598-1655), although he does not appear to have been an man of entirely reputable character (see his entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography). He was involved in a Dutch East Indian company expedition that mapped Western Australia in 1627. The epithet floribunda refers to the abundance of the flowers.
The tree is very significant and sacred to the Noongar people, the original inhabitants of south-western Australia. The Noongar name for the tree is Moodjar after a beautiful woman with golden hair. She was loved by her people for her kindness and helpfulness. They were greatly saddened when she fell seriously ill. She promised that she would return to visit. The Noongar believe that Moodjar wants to return when the tree flowers. It is important that the tree is not disturbed. Its flowers and branches should not be taken as they believe the recently deceased live there.
The Australian Botanic Gardens & Parks Authority advise that Western Australian Christmas Trees can be obtained from specialist native nurseries. However, you would have to be a patient gardener. They can take up to 20 years to display their glorious flowers.
References and Further Reading
- Botanic Gardens & Parks Authority (2022): Nuytsia floribunda. Government of Western Australia.
- Christenhusz, Maarten J. M & Fay, Michael F. & Chase, Mark W. (2017): Plants of the World. An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Vascular Plants. Kew, Chicago.
- Fay, Michael F. (2017): Is mistletoe more than an excuse for just a kiss? Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 18 December 2017.
- Klaassen, Nick (): Nuyts, Pieter (1598-1655). Australian Dictionary of Biography.
- Low, Tim (2017): Australia’s giant Parasitic Christmas Tree. Australian Geographic. 15 May 2017.
Karen does not seek or receive any commercial interest or advantage from this blog. She is not promoting any business venture. She simply loves to share fascinating facts about plants. These pages illustrate her love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. This blog is designed as a showcase for photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics. Viewpoints are her own, not those of her employer.