27 September 2023

Toxic tree makes the most of wet weather

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The wet weather hammering NSW is causing all sorts of unusual sights, but one that has had people stumped is the jellyfish-like blobs appearing on trees and footpaths, so the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney has stepped in to explain the phenomena.

Chief Botanist at the Australian Institute of Botanical Science, Brett Summerell said many people were reporting a gel-like substance exuding from their Illawarra Flame Trees in the wet weather.

“In some cases, this is covering the footpath and forming large blobs on the tips of the trees,” Dr Summerell said.

“Normally the tree produces this when their seed pods are attacked by insects as a means of protecting them, but with so much water the trees are exuding them through the growing points and through any damage on the branches,” he said.

“There are reports that the gel can be caustic and even lift the paint off cars, so it is best to wash it off surfaces with a hose and not touch it with bare skin.”

Dr Summerell said, however, the gel-like substance was so diluted by the wet weather that it was less likely to be caustic, “but better to be safe than sorry”.

He said the Illawarra Flame Tree bursts with colour during summer and could be found along the east coast of Australia.

Systematic Botanist at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, Russell Barrett previously told Australian Geographic that the inner bark of the trees was used by First Nations Australians for making string, fishing nets and traps, as well as being a food resource.

“The large seeds are rich in protein and taste rather like raw peanuts,” Dr Barrett said.

“They were commonly cooked before they were eaten to ensure that all the irritating hairs were burnt off,” he said.

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