The Western Australian Christmas tree (Nuytsia floribunda) received that name (and the alternate one of Christmas bush) because rather than blooming during the Southern Hemisphere's spring, it blooms in midsummer, right around the end of December or early January. It's found only in the southwestern corner of Australia, in sandy or granitic soil, and is not often cultivated in gardens because of its unusual growing habits; cuttings tend to survive only a year or two.

This member of the mistletoe family, one of the few that lives as a free-standing plant, grows to a height of about 45 feet, so its golden-orange flowers show up very brightly against the parched summer landscape of western Australia; when other plants look dried up, this tree doesn't seem to have any water problems. The reason for this is its unusual root system -- when one of the tree's roots comes near that of another plant, even the very thin ones of grasses, the tree's root grows a sucker which works its way around the other plant's root and encircle it, then sending tendrils inward. The tendrils block the other root's water-carrying channels and divert the water into the tree's root, thus hijacking the other plant's water supply for its own use. The root system may be latching on to every other plant in a 100-yard radius, and it cannot survive on its own except for a brief period as a sapling.

When underground cables were laid to connect space research receiving stations in western Australia, the cables started to develop faults. It took a while before it was realized that the Christmas trees were actually treating the cables as if they were roots -- cutting through the plastic coating and damaging the copper core. Fiber-optic cables did not work any better -- the tree would attack anything that was in the right place to be a root. The only solution so far is to make the cables so extremely thick that the Christmas tree cannot surround them.

Attenborough, David. The Private Life of Plants. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1995.

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