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Products > Castanospermum australe
Castanospermum australe - Moreton Bay Chestnut

[2nd Image]
Habit and Cultural Information
Category: Tree
Family: Fabaceae = Pea Family
Origin: Australia (Australasia)
Evergreen: Yes
Flower Color: Red & Yellow
Bloomtime: Summer
Height: 40-60 feet
Width: 30-40 feet
Exposure: Full Sun
Irrigation (H2O Info): Medium Water Needs
Winter Hardiness: 25-30 F
May be Poisonous  (More Info): Yes
Castanospermum australe (Moreton Bay Chestnut) - A slow growing evergreen tree to 25-40 feet tall with a round headed to flat topped crown. The large pinnate leaves have 11-15 emerald green leathery leaflets that each can be up to 6 inches long. Red and yellow pea-like flowers bloom from all branches in summer - blooms best in areas that have some summer heat but we get a regular show along the coast in Santa Barbara. Following flowering thick cylindrical seed pods to 9 inches long contain large round seeds. Plant in full sun to light shade with occasional summer watering - surprisingly drought tolerant in coastal gardens and is hardy to 25 degrees F. It is a suitable lawn tree or can grow in a drier situation. Roots don't lift pavement so is a suitable patio or street tree but roots will seek out water so not best planted near old leaky sewer lines or septic leach fields. One of the best, and largest specimens is at the Huntington Botanic Garden and nice plants can be found growing around Santa Barbara there are a couple street trees on Oak Park Lane and a specimen at the Stow House in Goleta that was planted in 1883, reportedly the first planted in the Santa Barbara. This is a pretty tree even when not in bloom so it can be planted in more coastal gardens, where flowering is less assured, just for its foliage and occasionally it is grown as an interior house plant or a curiosity plant because of its large seed, then sometimes called "Lucky Bean Plant". Other names include Black Bean or the Moreton Bay Chestnut, named for the bay at Brisbane, Queensland Australia, one location where this plant comes from in Australia, but it can also be found in coastal rainforests and along beaches from New South Wales north along the Queensland coast and west of there in the warm subtropical Bunya Mountains of Queensland and on the South Pacific island nations of New Caledonia and Vanuatu. The plant was first discovered then later officially described by Kew botanist Allan Cunningham in 1929 with the name for the genus coming from the Latin name 'castanea' used for the Chestnut and the Greek word 'spermum' meaning "seeded" in reference to the large chestnut-like seed (which raw are poisonous!). The specific epithet is Latin meaning "southern" in reference to this plant being from the southern hemisphere. In Australia this tree is considered a valuable timber species and its seeds were used for food by the Aboriginal people after extensive preparation to remove toxic compounds. More recently researchers have been interested in it because of the alkaloids they contain which are potentially useful in the treatment of HIV and cancer. We grew this plant from 1984 until 2007 but discontinued because a lack of sales unfortunate as it is a beautiful tree that should be used more often and for this reason we are once again growing it. Image on this page courtesy of Ken Greby.  The information on this page is based on research conducted in our nursery library and from online sources as well as from observations made of this plant as it grows in our nursery, in the nursery's garden and in other gardens that we have observed it in. We also will incorporate comments received from others and always appreciate getting feedback of any kind from those who have additional information, particularly if this information is contrary to what we have written or includes additional cultural tips that might aid others in growing Castanospermum australe.