My mission this week has been to gather up all the seedlings around the terrace that look like they could be albizia (silk tree) and pot them up.

I’ll probably find, in another few months, that I have 27 small wattles thriving in the potting shed, but that’s a risk I’ll have to take. The reason is that three of my friends who have albizias have asked me why they’re dying, throwing me into a total panic in case mine is about to go the same way.

The albizia is without doubt the most precious tree in my garden and right now it’s spreading its lovely fronds over the front terrace and lending a rosy pink glow to the bedroom.

The Partner will be cursing it in another few weeks when the rosy pink glow becomes the sludgy pink mess on the tiles, followed by drifts of yellowed fronds as it loses its leaves for winter. He will, no doubt, regard this as another opportunity to agitate for a bigger, better, brighter, all new, improved, petrol-powered leaf blower.

Back to the silk tree, though. As a species it’s not particularly long-lived because of its weak, brittle wood and susceptibility to Fusarium wilt, a fungal disease for which there’s no cure. The most noticeable symptom is yellowing, stunted, wilted leaves on one or more branches in early to mid-summer. Later in summer the affected branches might defoliate, and as the disease progresses, cracks may appear in the bark. The tree might survive for another growing season but basically it’s curtains and you’re probably best to get rid of it and minimize the spread of the fungal spores.

Albizia is likely to send out new growth from the base, but if the parent tree has the wilt disease, don’t be tempted to nurture this into a new tree. The fungal spores hang around for at least a couple of years and will very likely affect the new tree as well. However most tree species are not susceptible to Fusarium wilt so it’s pretty safe to plant a different species in the same place.

All this information has me looking at my albizia in a new light. It’s about 11 years old, so it’s probably time I thought about planting some others elsewhere on the property, hence my efforts with seedlings in the potting shed.

I’d also advise anyone with a much-loved albizia to save seed. The seeds have impermeable seed coats that allow them to remain dormant for many years, and one study showed that 90 percent of the seeds were viable after five years. That’s a fairly useful time frame for someone as lazy as I am.

Luckily the albizia is also easy to grow. It prefers full sunlight, it’s drought, wind, and salt tolerant, and it’ll thrive in clay, loam, sand, slightly alkaline, acidic, well drained, and occasionally wet soils.

According to one website, it attracts hummingbirds. Fairly unlikely here, although I would love to see one because I’ve heard they can fly backwards. However mine does attract fantails, thrush, doves and our Aspergers Syndrome cat, who finds the horizontal branches perfect for napping.

Albizia Alternatives

If your albizia is destined for a speedy demise due to Fusarium wilt, there are some suitable replacements. If you want similar  attributes – medium size, deciduous, flowering – check out these.

Serviceberry

This pretty tree has mid-green leaves turning to orange/red in autumn, with fragrant white flowers late winter/early spring. It tolerates hot overhead sun down to warm low sun, moist soil from mildly acidic to mildly alkaline, and is frost tolerant. It produces edible red berries and its new leaf growth is bronze.

Liquidambar

An upright, pyramid shaped tree with outer branches gracefully drooping, and finely cut and lobed leaves similar to a maple. Its autumn shades are pale orange and apricot,  then becoming purple.

Dogwood

The lovely dogwood is vase-shaped when young, then becoming more rounded. It’s deciduous and hardy, with white flowers and red fruit in March. The green foliage turns a brilliant red/purple in autumn, and the colour holds for at least two weeks.

(Order number: albizia 1)