What looks like a bottle, stores up liquid and has an edible inner bark? The Queensland bottle tree. Shaped like a sturdy wine bottle, these trees are often left standing when undergrowth is cleared away for farming. While not a perfect source, Bottle trees have long been considered an emergency source of sustenance.
Uses of the Bottle Tree
Bottle trees are often left in fields where cattle are being grown. The leaves can serve as an emergency fodder. In times of extreme drought, farmers have even felled whole trees for cattle. When the outer bark is pealed back, it exposes a soft, edible inner bark. Unfortunately, the pulp is a good source of energy, but doesn’t provide much in the way of protein. Some cattle fed on it have developed Nitrate poisoning.
The native people who lived in Australia before the Europeans sometimes ate the roots of the young plants or scored the sides of the trees and ate the secretions from them. They used the fiber to make nets.
Beautiful Shade Trees
Bottle trees make gorgeous shade trees, and their unusual trunk shape is a major conversation piece. For this reason they are often highly sought after as trees to line avenues or to plant in parks. As a tree for home lawn growth, they are rather large. They can grow to as much as 25 meters in height, with proportional girth. This doesn’t mean that they cannot function as a backyard tree; it simply means that you need to be sure your bottle tree will have plenty of growing room.
When a Bottle Tree is in the Wrong Place
Bottle trees are spectacular trees. But even the best trees can sometimes be in the way of progress. They might be growing where someone wants to place a building or they might have been injudiciously planted in a place that does not have room for them.
The good news here is that bottle trees, even mature trees that are rather large, can be transplanted. It is quite a project. Digging out and transporting a mature tree of any kind is an engineering undertaking of some magnitude. Earth movers, careful planning and large trucks are certainly involved. But with a modicum of care, a bottle tree can be removed from a location where it is not welcomed, and placed in an alternate spot where it will be appreciated.
Bottle Tree Care
Bottle trees that are planted out of doors are remarkably maintenance free. It is a seasonally deciduous tree, so there is some leaf waste. This can be a consideration in a residential situation where lawn care, maintenance and fire prevention are all part of home ownership. But it does not require pruning.
The bottle tree is susceptible to few pests. It is tolerant of a wide range of temperatures. It likes a slightly acid soil that is well drained. When it rains, the bottle tree soaks up moisture and stores it for the future – thus creating the distinctive bottle shape. All of these things combine to make a fairly maintenance free tree that puts out a wide canopy, thus creating welcome shade beneath its spreading boughs.
Bottle trees outside Australia
Bottle trees are sometimes grown as ornamentals in places like Las Vegas where ordinary trees do not thrive well. Hot days followed by chilly nights are not a favorite for many of the standard tree species. Bottle trees do well there, however, and are much prized as an alternative to the eternal palm tree. Not only do they create good shade, they store up water which means that they use less of it. Even though they might require some irrigation during extremely dry weather, bottle trees are likely to use less water than palms.
Bottle Trees as house plants
Yes, you can grow a bottle tree in a container. This is the one situation where your bottle tree might need pruned. Although they grow quite large in the wild, judicious use of the potting method to slow growth can make it possible to grow these beautiful trees in pots. A skilled gardener can even create quite a lovely bonsai using a young bottle tree.
No matter where or how they are grown, bottle trees are beautiful. Or funny, depending upon your point of view. Their stout lower trunks with their fat middles make the trees look very much like a bouquet stuck in a wine bottle. Speaking of bouquets, one last consideration is that they put on lovely blossoms in season.
The bottle tree has both male and female blossoms on the same tree, so it has that part covered as well. As with most blooming trees, the birds and bees love it.