The Golden Penda: Cairns’ official floral emblem

Skyrail Nature Diary: June 2007

Good looks, status, and attractive to birds; sounds like every man’s ideal self image, but these qualities actually describe the floral emblem of Cairns and one of the most eye-catching tropical rainforest species – the Golden Penda (Xanthostemon chrysanthus).

Previously the floral emblem of Mulgrave Shire, the Golden Penda retained its status after the amalgamation of Mulgrave Shire and Cairns City Council in 1995, to become the floral emblem of Cairns. The natural terrain of this beautiful species is quite specific; it only occurs between Cardwell and the Iron Range, making our floral emblem a true local along Tropical North Queensland’s eastern coastline.

The brilliant yellow flowers of the Golden Penda make it a popular garden tree and it is one of the easiest to identify in the rainforest. Blooming for extended periods between February and November, the Golden Penda’s flowers occur in clusters, scattered across the crown of the tree to make a dazzling, bright yellow display.

As well as being easy on the eye, the flower is popular with nectar feeding birds, such as parrots and lorikeets. The stamens of the Golden Penda flower can grow to three centimetres long: combine this with its bright yellow colour and you have a real tropical beauty.

The Golden Penda can grow up to 40 metres in height and yields a hard, durable timber, but if pruned annually it can also be contained to shrub size. In the rainforest this tree grows tall and straight, but is also found along river banks, such as the Mulgrave River, growing in a more uneven fashion.

Responding well to large doses of sunlight and moist soil, the Golden Penda thrives in tropical rainforest climates. Like many rainforest plants it is also quite resilient, and can exist in temperatures between 5 and 40 degrees Celsius, even withstanding light frosts. However, in conditions other than the humid tropical rainforest environment around Cairns, the Golden Penda’s flowers tend to be more scarcely distributed.

Its natural beauty and durability, combined with its emblem status, make this a popular species with local landscapers and gardeners. Therefore, as well as seeing it growing in its natural environment, you can also spot the Golden Penda in many local landscape features and gardens. Specifically, keep an eye out as you travel north on the Captain Cook Highway and you will spot the Golden Penda in many roundabout gardens.