By: Teo Spengler
What is a bunya tree? Bunya pine trees (Araucaria bidwilli) are striking conifers native to the subtropical regions of Australia’s east coast. These remarkable trees are not true pines, but members of an ancient family of trees known as Araucariaceae. For more Bunya pine information, including tips on how to grow a bunya tree, read on.
Forests of trees in the Araucariaceae family used to grow all over the planet during the days of the dinosaurs. They died out in the Northern Hemisphere, and the remaining species are found only in the Southern Hemisphere.
Bunya pine information makes clear how extraordinary these trees are. Mature bunya pine trees grow to 150 feet (45 m.) tall with straight, thick trunks and distinctive, symmetrical, dome-shaped crowns. The leaves are lance-shaped and the cones grow to the size of large coconuts.
Bunya pine information confirms that the seeds in the cones are edible. Each female cone grows some 50 to 100 large seeds or nuts. For hundreds of years, the edible seeds have provided a food source for the Aborigines of southeast Queensland, who considered the Bunya a sacred tree.
The nuts of Bunya pine trees are similar in texture and taste to chestnuts. They produce some nuts every year, and a large crop every three years. The bumper crops are large enough that clans of Aboriginal people would gather to feast on them.
Despite the fact that it has sub-tropical origins, the bunya pine is cultivated in many areas (typically USDA zones 9-11) and adapts to various soil types as long as it’s well-draining. It also appreciates full sun to part shade areas.
If you want to learn how to grow a bunya tree, one of the most important points to remember is that the trees have large tap roots that must extend deep into the ground. The tap roots anchor the bunya pine trees. Without healthy tap roots, they topple in the wind.
How to grow a bunya tree with a strong tap root? The key is direct seeding. Bunya trees don’t grow well in pots because their germination period is unpredictable and when they do sprout, their tap roots quickly outgrow the pots.
Try to protect the seeds from rodents and harsh weather. Weed the planting area well, then place the seeds on the bare ground, covered with forest litter. Position staked, plastic tree guards around each one. This manner of planting lets the seeds germinate at their own rate and the tap roots grow as deep as they can. Water regularly. Seeds can take anywhere from one to eighteen months to germinate.
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The Spruce / Phoebe Cheong
There are dozens of species and varieties of banana and plantain trees (Musa spp.). While these tropical fruiting plants are commonly referred to as trees, they’re technically huge herbaceous plants, meaning they don’t have a woody stem. Instead, they have fleshy, upright stalks from which large, oblong, bright green leaves grow. Showy flowers appear typically in the spring, giving way to the fleshy, elongated, green or yellow fruit.
No matter the size of your yard, there is a banana tree to fit. While most species grow best in warm climates, there also are somewhat cold-hardy banana trees. Plus, they can make good houseplants with enough light, though they typically don't bear fruit indoors. Banana trees generally have a fast growth rate and should be planted in the spring.
|Botanical Name||Musa spp.|
|Common Names||Banana tree, plantain tree|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous, perennial|
|Mature Size||2–30 ft. tall, 1–15 ft. wide (varies widely by species)|
|Soil Type||Loamy, well-drained|
|Flower Color||White, purple, orange|
|Hardiness Zones||9–11 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Asia, Africa, Australia|
A mature bunya pine showing classic conical growing habit
Of all the striking aspects of the subtropical regions of Australia’s east coast, the landforms, the climate, the exotic fauna… few offer as immediately impressive a sight as a fully mature Bunya pine. Reaching a recorded height of 45m, with trunks like a sauropod’s leg and sporting cones bigger than a bowling ball, few things say ancient like a Bunya Pine.
The Bunya (bunya-bunya, bunyi, booni-booni or bonya in various aboriginal dialects), while indeed still a conifer, is not a true pine. It belongs to an ancient family of coniferous trees known as Araucariaceae. The greater Araucariaceae family, literally like something out of Jurassic Park, were distributed almost worldwide during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, becoming entirely extinct in the northern hemisphere toward the end of the Cretaceous and now found exclusively in the southern hemisphere, survived by approximately 41 species across three genera. Other members of the family include the iconic Kauri of New Zealand , the Norfolk Island Pine and Australia’s other ”living fossil” the Wollemi Pine. The Bunya shares the same genus with another good food source, Araucaria araucana, the Monkey Puzzle tree of Chile.
Although its timber has been discovered to be ideal for use in the production of acoustic musical instruments, its real potential comes in its already ancient role (and bright future) as a human food source.
The Bunya was of immense cultural significance to the life and food security of the Aboriginal peoples who lived in proximity to it. Every year the trees would produce a small yield of nuts and every three years or so a bumper crop so large as to support clan gatherings of hundreds and very possibly thousands of Aboriginal people over the harvesting months. It was at these gatherings, feasting on the nuts, that they would perform activities such as extra-tribal ceremonies, settle disputes, trade goods and arrange marriages.
The value of the nut as food was not lost on the settling Europeans, reminding them of the Chestnuts from home.
The cones shed their seeds which are sweet before being perfectly ripe, and after that, resemble roasted chestnuts in taste. They are plentiful once in three years, and when the ripening season arrives… the aborigines assemble in large numbers from a great distance around, and feast upon them. Each tribe has its own particular set of trees, and of these, each family has a certain number allotted, which are handed down from generation to generation with great exactness… The food seems to have a fattening effect on the aborigines, and they eat large quantities of it after roasting it at the fire… Contrary to their usual habits, they sometimes store up the Bunya nuts, hiding them in a water hole for a month or two. — J. Maiden in ‘Forest Flora of New South Wales’ 1889
A bumper crop of Bunya cones
A council sign in Perth warning of the
potential dangers of falling cones
Aboriginal peoples traditionally ate the nuts raw, roasted or stored them underground in wet mud, which is believed to have improved the flavor as well as extended their length of availability. Europeans used to boil them with their corned beef. In fact to this day a favorite means of preparation is to boil them in brine, giving their otherwise nutty, warm flavour a salty, savoury edge. Boiling is the recommended means of preparation, as methods like roasting tend to dry the flesh out. An exact nutritional breakdown of the nut is hard to find. Wikipedia (yes I know, I’m sorry…) states the nuts are ”40% water, 40% complex carbohydrates, 9% protein, 2% fat, 0.2% potassium, 0.06% magnesium” and contains approx. 32 calories. The flesh of the nut is very similar to that of the Chestnut — low oil, high starch. Being gluten free, perhaps there is a market for Bunya flour?
Bunyas can be unpredictable in their germination. On a recent trip to the Australian National Arboretum in Canberra I spoke to Adam Burgess, a fellow Araucariaceae enthusiast and head curator, to help shed some light on the subject.
Once planted, a seed may take one month to germinate. It may take eighteen. They have what’s called a cryptogeal seed formation. Upon sprouting, the seed sends a shoot downward, usually until it encounters a harder surface. There it forms a tuber. This tuber can sit dormant for months at a time, waiting, it is assumed, for optimal growing conditions. From here the roots and stem develop.
Up to 500 times the mass of a regular pine nut
Adam also spoke to the need for further investigation into the Araucariaceae at large.
To be honest there’s a gaping hole in the research. We really don’t know that much about them. Take the Wollemi (Wollemia nobilis) for instance. It’s been mass marketed to the public but by asexual propagation (cuttings) with extremely mixed results. Research bodies are only just now starting to do more thorough work with seedlings and asking more questions. Do other Araucariaceae have this tuber-producing habit? What is its true purpose? Do other species’ tubers hold potential value as food? There’s a whole undiscovered world underneath these trees. It’s interesting — fun — this kind of research and observing how large and powerful a Bunya Pine can get. They can be so unpredictable. One day you throw a Bunya nut in the compost and see nothing for six months then suddenly there’s a nine inch tap root poking out. Obviously it had stalled, waiting for optimum conditions but as to what those parameters are, we’re still unsure.
When establishing a tree of such eventual size and weight a good root system is a seriously important point to consider. When many large trees sprout, Bunya included, they send down a large main tap root, or ‘radical’ root, far into the ground, primarily as a point of anchorage. Failure to establish a healthy, deep tap root can see trees toppled over by forces like wind, which they may otherwise have been impervious to. Often, common tree nursery techniques are not so appreciative of these points — raising their to-be-large trees in pots too small, for too long, causing root binding and rendering their tap roots all but useless. There are ways around this. Two good systems come to mind.
One: Rocket Pots and Racks. Developed by Australian horticulturalist, Peter Lawton, the rocket pot and accompanying flood rack system is a way to grow tree crops in a regular nursery environment while ensuring that the usual issues of becoming root bound are avoided. Trees are germinated in pots with many holes in them. Once the tree’s roots, taproot included, reach one of the holes they are ”air pruned” and stop growing, effectively going into a stasis. Later, when the trees are planted, those roots, with their delicate growing tips still intact, continue their growing process outward, away from the stem, unimpeded by the impervious plastic membrane of most pots — those that send roots around and around in search for extra space to grow. Instead of the usual overhead sprinkler systems, flood irrigation is provided, encouraging the roots to chase the water downward as it recedes during the drainage cycle.
Two: Direct seeding. Ideally, I believe Bunya should be direct seeded. Its unpredictable sprouting time, unusual tuber-forming habit and variable root production can make for a hard time judging when a seedling needs potting on or planting out. Efforts taken to minimize predation by rodents, etc., and protection from the harsher elements, will of course boost strike rates. Try setting up staked, plastic tree guards on bare, weed-free ground. Place a bunya seed on the bare ground and cover with simulated forest litter, leaves, straw or even perhaps pieces of the Bunya cone casing. Safe from rodents and protected from the elements, this should allow the seeds to germinate at their own rate and send a strong, healthy tap root straight down as deep as they can. Water as the site conditions suggest.
A bunya sapling at the PRI Zaytuna Farm
This species’ wide potential range is one of the reasons it is so exciting. Originally spread throughout the once much moister Australasian land masses, it has in recent geological history been refined to the humid subtropics of southeastern Queensland and northern New South Wales (Brisbane – 27.4679° S), and isolated pockets existing in north Queensland (Townsville – 19.2564° S). However, due to its obvious attraction to botanists, specimens have found their way into parks and botanic gardens worldwide for over 200 years. I have personally seen it fruiting as far south (poleward) as the Royal Botanic Gardens in cool temperate Hobart, Tasmania (42.8806° S). Mr. Geoff Lawton has told me he has seen it in semi-arid Cairo, Egypt (30.0500° N) and I have also seen it fruiting happily in the classically mediterranean climate of Perth, Western Australia (31.9522° S). There are reported Bunya in California, Mexico, Dublin, Portugal, Italy, Spain, South Africa, Chile, Indonesia…. That’s quite a spread.
‘Here in Canberra we’ve planted over six hundred Bunya seedlings in a monocultural planting and here we can experience extremes from -10ºC in winter to 30ºC in summer, all on a relatively dry site in a part of the world which has quite unpredictable rainfall — and these seedlings are doing very well here. There are local mature trees here over a hundred years old, planted by ex-governors and botanists, and they fruit heavily every few years. It seems all but impervious to the frost, even when young. It gets a shock, and its foliage turns a copper green/brown, but it soon bounces back. As far as we can tell it is immune to Phytophthora issues, whereas the Monkey Puzzle and Wollemi can’t handle it at all. From the full tropics to the cold temperate and everything in between, they are ridiculously hardy.
Of all the many ideas relevant to Permaculture, of all the subsets of information we explore, trial and discuss, it is this author’s opinion that perennial staple crops are amongst the most important — deserving more attention and recognition as a major point of transition. It behooves us to move from an annual, grain-based, staple crop agriculture, with all its inputs, fragilities and destructive side effects, into a (relatively) low input, high yield, multi generational, perennial staple crop polyculture system. Besides the immediate yield of food there are of course the added ecologically restorative benefits like erosion control, carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat, etc. All these factors have been well discussed. Given their size (and potential ballistic dangers), bunya are ideal for the Zone 4/5 edge. Imagine vast groves of them established along the fringes of a city or village’s farthest edges of activity. Hyper-hardy once established, they could be all but ignored and returned to, if need be, only during times of harvest (wearing helmets!) to collect the starch-rich staple nuts, and then brought back to town, processed or roasted and eaten on the spot. Who knows, it’s just a thought!
A young bunya at the PRI Zaytuna Farm
Whichever humid climate zone you may find yourself in, there is a chance that a bunya pine has made its way there. It may be as easy as going to a local retail nursery, or you may have to go and enquire at the nearest botanical gardens. However you do it, it’s well worth the while of future inhabitants of the area in which you live that specimens be found and awareness of this amazing tree ally be raised.
Watch this space for a recent interview I did with Beverly Hands, the traditional Aboriginal caretaker of the Bunya Pine and re-initiator of the ancient Bunya festival.
Strawberry trees aren't fussy about the kind of soil they grow in, but it should be consistently moist and well-drained, says Lucy Bradley, an extension specialist at North Carolina State University. Before planting your tree, make sure the soil is healthy. To check the all-important pH level of your soil, get it tested by (or get a test kit from) your local extension service. If it's missing any nutrients you have the opportunity to get it in shape before planting the trees.
Strawberry trees, which bloom in October through December, typically grow 10 to 15 feet in height as well as spread (width), but some have grown as high as 30 feet. Most grow in a multi-stemmed form but can be trained as a single trunk tree. And it'll last for around five or six years. A new plant peaks three years after it's established and then dies about two or three years later.
Bunya Native Nursery is able to provide a wide range of common and easy to grow natives-right through to difficult to obtain local native plants for the Sydney region. Our plants are available in hiko cells, tubestock, a range of pot sizes and tree bags.
Our greatest asset is, and has always been our highly experienced staff. Our current Nursery Manager, Daniel Smart, is able to provide invaluable knowledge of Western Sydney native species and has extensive local provenance knowledge with over 18 years’ experience.
Our services include seed collection, seed cleaning & storage, propagation, plant delivery and installation. We operate under the Flora Bank best practice guidelines which focuses on collecting the highest quality and most genetically diverse seeds.
Bunya Native Nursery was established in 2015 by the specialist bush regeneration company, Hills Bushcare. We found that the diversity of plants on offer was very limiting, and the quality of plants provided sometimes lacking. And from there began the Bunya Native Nursery.
Since February 2015, Bunya Native Nursery has expanded our capabilities to provide the finest quality native plants for a range of small through to very large projects. Larger sized provenance plants can be provided with enough notice. We are currently establishing an expanded operation at Ebenezer in Sydney’s west on a 40 acres farm which will be able to cater for all size projects. Public access can be arranged with prior notice.
Good things do come in small packages - like nuts! These bite-sized nibbles are available in a variety of rich flavours, each with their own unique taste and texture and packed full of healthy goodness.
While certain trees, like walnuts and pecans, will need a considerable amount of space, almonds, macadamias and pistachios will happily grow in an average-sized garden. Have a crack and go nuts!
These beautiful green, purple and pink nuts may be small, but pistachios (Pistacia vera) are packed with flavour and loads of nutritional goodness. They grow on a small shrubby tree, approximately 5m high and wide, and are ideal for suburban gardens.
However, they're dioecious, which means male and female flowers grow on separate trees, so you will need to plant two trees if you want to produce nuts.
TO GROW: Pistachios grow best in areas with long, dry, hot summers and cold winters. The trees are quite hardy and will happily tolerate poor soils, provided they are planted deep enough to accommodate their lengthy taproot. Plant male and female trees close together to help promote pollination.
TO HARVEST: If looked after, pistachio trees can produce nuts after four to five years. Harvest in autumn, when hulls begin to split. Remove hulls as soon as possible and dry nuts (still in their shells) in the sun or oven.
The luxurious, velvety texture and taste of macadamias make them one of the most-loved nuts in the world. An Australian native, macadamias (Macadamia sp.) are one of the few bush foods sold on a commercial level - and it's great to have a go at growing your own.
Macadamia trees can grow up to 20m in the wild, but will grow between 8-10m tall in most gardens. You can grow them from seed, but they can take years to fruit and can be extremely variable, so it's best to buy grafted trees of known varieties like 'A286' or 'A4'.
TO GROW: Macadamia trees thrive in tropical and subtropical climates, but they will also grow well in frost-free, warm-temperate areas. However, there are certain varieties that will tolerate cooler climates and light frosts. Plant young trees in full sun and protect from strong winds. Ensure the soil is moist, well drained and enriched with organic matter prior to planting. In spring and summer, feed with a complete fertiliser and water in well. Trees will also benefit from a fortnightly liquid feed during the growing season.
TO HARVEST: Seedling trees can take up to seven years to fruit, but grafted trees will fruit in as little as three to four years. The nuts mature during late autumn and winter, and will fall to the ground when ripe. Pick nuts and remove husks as soon as possible, then air dry in the shade for at least two weeks.
Whole, blanched, slivered, flaked and ground, almonds (Prunus dulcis) are one of the most useful nuts for adding texture and taste to your meals. The nuts grow on gorgeous compact trees, only 3m tall and wide, making them ideal for the average home garden. They provide colour in the form of delicate pink or white blooms from mid-winter, giving shade in summer, and produce nuts after three years. You will need two varieties for pollination but for suburban gardens look for self-fertile varieties like All-in-One or Dwarf Almond.
TO GROW: Almonds grow best in temperate or warm temperate climates. They can grow in cold areas, provided the site is protected from cold wind. Plant in full sun and in moist, well-drained soil. Water well, especially during summer, ensuring the soil is moist, but not waterlogged. Feed trees in autumn and late winter.
TO HARVEST: Nuts will be ready for harvest after three years, however, after eight years, the tree should be bearing a significant crop. Harvest nuts when the outer coating splits and the fruit drops. Collect as they fall and sun dry for a few days.
It's hard not to fall in love with the unique rich, buttery taste of pecans - just one bite will leave you craving for more! However, you will need a large garden to grow them, as pecan trees (Carya illinoinensis) can reach up to 30m tall. These trees can produce nuts for more than 100 years, so they are well worth the investment if you have the space.
Like macadamias, nuts grown from seed are not true to type, so it's best to buy a known or preferred variety that's grafted onto seedling rootstock.
TO GROW: Pecans grow best in areas where summers are long and hot and winters are cold. If growing in warmer zones, a cool, elevated site is best. Grow in part shade or full sun and plant in deep, moist and well-drained soil. Most cultivars are self-pollinating, but planting two different cultivars will ensure optimum cross-pollination and nut development. Water well in late spring and early summer when the tree is setting nuts.
TO HARVEST: This slow-growing tree can take between 10-12 years to fruit. Nuts mature in autumn and winter pick when they start to fall, then air dry.
They might be referred to as nuts, but peanuts (Arachis hypogaea) are actually highly nutritious legumes. They form on a small bushy shrub that grows only 30cm tall and 20cm wide, making them the perfect size for growing between other plants in the vegie bed. But where and how the nuts form is most unusual - they are not simply picked off the branches. Instead, the flowering stems elongate and bury themselves in the soil, and that's where the nuts develop.
TO GROW: In warm climates, seeds can be sown from early spring, but in cooler climates it's best to sow in late spring once the soil is warm. In a warm, sunny position, plant fresh nuts with their papery covering intact. Ensure the soil is moist and well drained.
TO HARVEST: Once the leaves on the plant turn yellow, the nuts are ready to harvest. This can take anywhere between 17-20 weeks, depending on the cultivar. Use a fork to carefully lift the entire plant with nuts, discard the taproot and hang to dry. Leave to dry for several days and discard any nuts that show symptoms of fungus or mould.
You have to love their odd wrinkled shape, but as well as their unique look, walnuts (Juglans sp.) are sweet, have great texture and make a fab addition to cooking and baking - hello brownies! They can grow up to 25m tall, but they're highly ornamental and are beautiful specimen trees. Walnut trees are partially self-fertile, so one tree will eventually bear fruit, but the chances will be improved if you plant two. If you have the space, walnut trees are well worth growing.
TO GROW: Walnuts grow best in climates with long, hot, dry summers and cool winters. Plant in an open sunny site, in deep and well-drained soil enriched with organic matter, and protect young trees from strong winds.
TO HARVEST: Nuts will be ready for harvest after four years and can be picked from mid-April. Remove the hull as soon as possible, then sun dry on racks for several days.
Next on the agenda is taking care of the plant which is an easy process altogether. Follow the below points to keep the tree healthy and yielding.
You will get to know more about how to have an organic kitchen garden.