My recent story of masked bees (http://wildnsydney.com/fibs_blog/a-masked-bees-nest) began on flowers of the bloodwood Corymbia ficifolia, also called the Albany redgum. These small trees hailing from Western Australia are perhaps the most spectacular of the many eucalypts with abundant and beautiful flower displays.
This season’s display is pretty well finished now, but at its peak it attracts considerable attention from a variety of wildlife. This is primarily because of the copious amounts of nectar held in each flower’s cuplike base. Here, a honey bee and a spotted flower chafer beetle have been joined by a rainbow lorikeet. The lorikeet laps nectar and pollen with its specially adapted brush tongue:
This close-up of a flower on another tree shows a number of ants wading in the shallow pool of nectar held in the flower’s cup.
The colour of the flowers varies between trees, ranging from dark red to lighter red and orange through to ‘fairy floss pink’, like this one.
The pink matches the grey plumage of another enthusiastic ficifolia visitor - the noisy miner, two of which can be seen on the right-hand side of the tree below:
As well as differing in colour, the flowers can also vary in the quantity of cream-coloured pollen held at the tip of each stamen – this next photo shows the effect of having larger pollen bodies:
Whatever the colour, the flowers are a magnet for pollinators. As well as the miners and lorikeet pictured above, bees and other insects are also regular visitors. Here, a honey bee flies in to join a stingless bee, an ant and a small bug:
More honey bees and a stingless bee are visible in this bract of orange flowers on another tree:
Bloodwoods and ghost gums are members of the Corymbia genus, which along with the Angophoras and true Eucalypts belongs to the family of trees known loosely as eucalypts or gum trees. Corymbia flowers don’t have any petals, just a central stigma on a long style emerging from the centre of the flower cup with a large number of stamens ranged around its perimeter. The filaments of these stamens provide most of the flower’s colour.
Unlike the open flowers, the buds do have petals, but they are fused together to form a cap called a calyptra. This is pushed off as the flower opens. In this image you can see the calyptrae on the unopened buds, and the almost-detached calyptra of the newly opened flower that the bird is feeding from.
After the stamens have fallen off, the remaining flower grows into a fruit, known as a gumnut, with the seeds held inside. Ficifolia gumnuts are particularly large, and doubtless inspired the Gumnut Babies stories of May Gibbs, who grew up in Western Australia.