SPREADING ITS WINGS: Umbrella trees are becoming widely invasive.
SPREADING ITS WINGS: Umbrella trees are becoming widely invasive. Contributed

Umbrella trees might look nice, but they're damaging

Umbrella tree (Schefflera actinophylla)

UMBRELLA tree is native to tropical America but is also considered as native to northern Australia (the coastal districts of northern and central Queensland and the northern parts of the Northern Territory) and New Guinea.

This species is becoming widely invasive beyond its native range in eastern Australia (in south-eastern Queensland and the coastal districts of northern New South Wales).

Umbrella tree is regarded as an environmental weed in south-eastern Queensland, New South Wales and on Christmas Island.

Impact

A weed of closed forests, rainforests, open woodlands, national parks, waterways, orchards, and coastal environments in these areas. Umbrella trees are causing harm to local ecosystems' flora and fauna.

The seed is spread by birds and other animals that eat its fruit.

The umbrella tree's aggressive roots can easily crack sewer lines, water pipes, paths and walls. They can block plumbing joints and pipes as well as damaging footpaths and building foundations.

Description

A fast-growing multi-stemmed tree usually growing 6-10m tall, but occasionally reaching 20m or more. This plant has been widely cultivated in gardens.

Seedlings may germinate in the crotches of large trees, and in this case the plant will grow as an epiphyte until its roots reach the ground.

The thick branches are marked by conspicuous leaf-scars when they are young. They are dark green in colour, and covered with whitish spots.

The once-compound leaves are very large, with several leaflets (7-16) radiating from the same point. The main leaf stalk is robust and 15-60cm long, while each of the leaflets is borne on a smaller stalk 2.5-8cm long.

Each of the glossy green leaflets is oblong to narrowly-oblong in shape (8-30cm long and 4-8cm wide) with pointed tips. They are hairless and usually have entire margins, however seedling leaves may be slightly toothed towards their tips.

The flowers are borne in large branched clusters at the top of the plant. Each flower cluster has several branches up to 80cm long that radiate outward from a central point.

The small bright red flowers are grouped together in small clusters (1-2cm across) along these flowering branches.

Each flower usually has 12 petals (occasionally as few as 7 or as many as 18) that are pink to red in colour and only 3-5mm long, while its sepals are reduced to a tiny rim about 1mm long. The flowers have the same number of stamens as petals.

Flowering occurs mostly during spring and summer. The small fruit (6-12mm across) turn dark red or dark purple in colour as they mature. They resemble berries but have a hard centre. Fruit appear during winter.

Control

At any time of year, cut stems off horizontally as close to the ground as possible. Immediately (within 15 seconds) swab cut surface with herbicide mixture.

Untreated stumps will reshoot and roots left in the ground will reshoot unless removed.

Landcare details

Article writer Ian Read can be contacted 07 4159 9365, or email ian.read7@bigpond.com.au for free weed identification and native plants advice, and for landscaping and weed control.

Phone Landcare president Michael Johnson on 0422 297 062 for weed project details and monthly meeting times, or email bundylandcare@gmail.com

The Bundaberg Landcare Nursery at the Salvation Army Tom Quinn Centre, Doctor May's Rd, is open on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, 10am-4pm for native plants.



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