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Wood IDs #10: Found limb - Bottlebrush

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Blog entry by Gary Fixler posted 04-03-2009 01:51 AM 9298 reads 1 time favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 9: Sealing up the mystery tree (probably California Bay Laurel) Part 10 of Wood IDs series Part 11: Paperbark branches »

This branch, found a week ago now, was a mystery for awhile, but then I accidentally identified it while looking up something about paperbark trees, which are in some ways related. Callistemon, or Bottlebrush Trees, in the Myrtaceae family, are – like many LA trees – native to Australia. My coworker and officemate, who knows about my log and tree-collecting shenanigans told me one morning that the city had roped off a big branch that had fallen. He saw it on his drive in to work.

Later in the day I took a walk to that area, bringing my handy Irwin coarse-cut carpenter saw with me, tucked into my pants under my coat, gangster style. It was bigger than I thought. I cleaned it up, and carried the rather large log back to the office and my waiting car, 0.83 miles away (I measured later on Google Maps). I’d say it was about an 80lbs log, more than 10’ long, and required quite a bit of freeing with the saw from its plume of foliage, so naturally, I was dirty, sweaty, worn, and bleeding by the time I got back to the office. It took 2 days for the pains in my shoulders and neckbone to go away, but I had fun the whole time, so I’m not complaining :)

Here’s what I found. At this point I was thinking “I shoulda drove here…”

fallen branch, almost as big as the tree from this angle

fallen branch, cordoned off by city

fallen Bottlebrush branch

fallen Bottlebrush branch

Bottlebrush tree with fallen limb

fallen Bottlebrush branch

I took some pics of the tree so you guys could help me ID it, but then I accidentally solved it (sorry!). It would appear that of the 34 current species in the genus Callistemon, this is C. citrinus. These pics from Cuyamaca College’s Ornamental Horticulture 170 class are all spot-on matches. However, other pages, such as this one show it as more of a shrub, so Cuyamaca’s classification could be off. As usual, I wish for complete, definitive guides, but don’t find them. Most pages agree that “Callistemon” comes from the Greek words “calli,” “kalli,” or “callos” (“beautiful”) + “stemon” (stamen), as it is the stamen of the plants that appears as a beautiful red or white plume, like a pipe cleaner.

Bottlebrush tree

Bottlebrush tree trunk

Bottlebrush tree bark

Here are some shots of the leaves, twigs, and berry-like seed pods:

leaves of Bottlebrush tree

Leaves and berry-like seed pods of Bottlebrush tree

tons of berry-like seed pods in the twigs of a Bottlebrush tree branch

leaves and seed pods of Bottlebrush tree

leaves and seed pods of Bottlebrush tree

And here was the real giveaway, and the reason it’s called a Bottlebrush:

Bottlebrush tree flower

I skipped shots of all the cuttings-up action, but I learned something: When you carry a huge log through a neighborhood, people talk to you. No one ever talks to me in public, especially in LA, but while cutting the twigs free, an older couple walked past, and the woman remarked to me “That thing just fell down in the wind, didn’t it?” Walking back, an older Asian man looked delighted, and asked “Did you pick that up all by yourself?” Shortly thereafter I heard a woman laughing, and found her sitting on the steps in front of her building. “How far do you have to carry that? Are you going to be okay?” There were several more on the walk back. The guy in the gatehouse at my company, who’s never spoken to me before even leaned out of the window to ask “What in the world!?” Not too many people carrying limbs back to office buildings full of computers and nerds :) The only one person who didn’t talk to me was the beautiful, shapely young woman in skin-tight exercise outfit who walked past me, who for whatever reason was lightly glaring, as though I’d just stolen the limb from her private collection. Oh well…

Here’s how the final branch looked, back at work, near my ‘00 Ford Focus hatchback:

large Bottlebrush limb by my hatcback

I wouldn’t even close to fit in the car, but the Irwin saw had it chopped up in a few minutes. I love that thing. The inside reminded me a lot of some Junipers I’ve seen:

Bottlebrush limb cross section

And here’s how it looked cut up and stacked in the hatchback:

Bottlebrush limb cut up and stowed in hatchback

Did I mention I’m pricing trucks right now? I left before anyone could link me to this mess at my office:

sawdust after cutting up Bottlebrush tree limb

Checking was evident less than a full day later. Time to get these things sealed up:

Bottlebrush limb checking

A neat feature of this tree is the seed pods. They grow on pretty much every size part of the tree:

Bottlebrush seed pods on limb section

And now for some very pretty cross sections of the smaller pieces:

Bottlebrush limb cross section

Bottlebrush limb cross section

Bottlebrush limb cross section

Bottlebrush limb cross section

Bottlebrush limb cross section

Here’s my little trimming setup, with a drill press vise, clamps, and pull saw, on my circular saw table:

Bottlebrush sections

I’ve taken lately to dipping branches in Rockler Green Wood End Sealer, and starting last night (on more Eucalyptus), Anchorseal. This shot is of the former, as the Anchorseal only came in 2 days ago:

dipping a Bottlebrush branch in Rockler Green Wood End Sealer

dipping a Bottlebrush branch in Rockler Green Wood End Sealer

This shot of the bark of a small piece really reminds me of this macro shot of a human iris:

small cutting from limb of Bottlebrush tree

This is what I ended up with of the small pieces, cut into small turning blanks and sealed up:

small pieces of Bottlebrush limb, for turning

small pieces of Bottlebrush limb, for turning

Next step was to start peeling bark off the big pieces, to get to the wood beneath…

prepping to debark Bottlebrush limb pieces

peeled bark and peeled limb of Bottlebrush tree

The bark was amazing, and reminded me of bacon underneath. Mmm… bacon:

peeled bark from Bottlebrush limb

peeled bark from Bottlebrush limb

The limb had rippling, fabric-like folds in it underneath the bark, which of course were wooden and solid:

ripples in fold of Bottlebrush limb

I cleaned up the torn end that had been connected to the tree, revealing some dark red heartwood:

dark red heartwood of Bottlebrush tree

The outer bark peels away with about the same resistance as fresh corn husks, but the last, lowest layers really hold on. If you can manage to peel them, and the cambial layer off, as I could on the lower piece here, you find a very smooth wood beneath:

Bottlebrush limb chunk peeled entirely of its bark

Here’s the result of stripping the bark from the large limb chunks:

peeled limb of Bottlebrush tree

peeled limb of Bottlebrush tree

I believe the little spiky nodes found under the large limbs’ bark are seed pods forming:

spiky nodes under bark of Bottlebrush limb

spiky nodes under bark of Bottlebrush limb

spiky nodes under bark of Bottlebrush limb

In real life, these colors are much more vivid. Also, that cut is still healing, a week later:

spiky nodes under bark of Bottlebrush limb

Note where the pith is on these, and see how eccentrically the rings can grow:

eccentric growth pattern in Bottlebrush limb

eccentric growth pattern in Bottlebrush limb

My garage was quite a mess after cleaning up the branch, not to mention all the Eucalyptus crap:

peeled Bottlebrush bark all over shop floor

Everything is sealed up now:

small chunk of Bottlebrush log, ends sealed

One last shot of the bacon-like inner-bark:

inner bark of Bottlebrush log

I made a cool discovery several days ago. Bottlebrush bark is aromatic. It almost has a barbecue-smoke smell to it. I burned a piece as a test, and it gave off a church incense smell! I quickly gathered all the bark into a pile, and even took the pile the gardeners had thrown out back out of the green recycling bin to add to my stash. This stuff may come in handy. I just have to read up on its toxicity, and whether or not it can be used for smoking meat, or even distilled for its essential oils.

Bottlebrush bark, peeled in a pile

Bottlebrush bark, peeled in a pile

Believe it or not, there are more pictures in the flickr set, though not many more :) All this limb and tree finding, project working, and photo uploading and commenting has me a bit backed up on new material. Hopefully lots more to come, including some projects again finally.

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator



10 comments so far

View whitedog's profile

whitedog

650 posts in 2114 days


#1 posted 04-03-2009 02:43 AM

i can’t wait to see a finished project with this wood … looks like it will be interesting

-- Paul , Calfornia

View livi's profile

livi

2 posts in 1984 days


#2 posted 04-16-2009 10:22 PM

I live in Puerto Rico, we have lots of these trees here. I planted on in front of my house obut 10 years ago. It grew beautiful, but had to cut it down. Now it is growing tall again.

I saved all the branches I thought I could use because the wood looked redish and so beautiful. Im an artisan, a friend cut me some rounds (slices) about an inch thick and they worked perfectly. I sand and seal these wood, then mount my figures on them. they loo very nice and my customers are very happy with the looks of this wood.

I would like to know if it could be used for carving. Does anyone knows?

View johnpoolesc's profile

johnpoolesc

246 posts in 2017 days


#3 posted 04-16-2009 10:31 PM

good find if it did turn into an adventure. i as well am waiting for a finished project.. and yes, you can carve bottlebrush.. i perfer to boil smaller pieces then dry, a lot of turners use that methid

-- It's not a sickness, i can stop buying tools anytime.

View livi's profile

livi

2 posts in 1984 days


#4 posted 06-08-2009 09:16 PM

I have being carving for a few month, so I’m pretty new at this. Never heard of boiling wood and then drying it, could you please be more specific, details, more information please. Why would you boil wood? what kind of technique is this or… is it a joke? I was looking in the web for more information on this, but couldnt find any.

Also, if anyone knows of a wood supplier that ships to Puerto Rico, I would appreciate the information. Im looking for basswood, white pine or butternut to practice carving. (not expensive wood). Tried Heinekewood but they do not ship to PR.

Thanks guys. Livi

View joshu017's profile

joshu017

3 posts in 1701 days


#5 posted 01-25-2010 11:24 AM

Hey Gary,

A bottle brush tree in my back yard blew over in the latest installment of San Diego ‘winter’ (I’m from Michigan so it gets quotes until we have at least a little snow) and after some googling your blog post shows the most promise of anyone knowing whether or not this stuff is worth keeping and/or trying to use in a project. Did you ever get around to using it for anything? How did it go?

Thanks!
-Josh

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1000 posts in 2039 days


#6 posted 01-26-2010 11:46 PM

Hi Josh,

I have not gotten back to it, though now I’m excited to again. Thanks for the reminder! What I can say was that it seemed a good wood. It was dense, hard, and heavy, and the cross sections were quite pretty. If I had to guess, I would think it would have the look of something like cedar or juniper when cut up or turned, and probably the turnability and closed grain similar to eucalyptus. You know my answer, though. I’d definitely keep a whole tree that feel over of this stuff!

I don’t just keep anything anymore, though. I no longer want any fig wood, for example. I couldn’t find anyone online using it for anything, and I know why now. It gets moldy very easily, especially under sealers (Anchorseal, green wood seal, etc), and the mold travels through the entire log – keep turning a bowl, and it’s everywhere throughout it. It has a kind of stinky smell, like hard liquor. Too, it’s very fibrous. I had a decent bowl shape I turned green, and then it dried out, and turning it again to straighten out the warping, it just tore all apart. It’s like a bunch of rope joined together. It’s a terrible wood to use for woodwork, but I think bottlebrush could be quite pretty and useful.

I’d love to see what you do with it, if anything!

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View joshu017's profile

joshu017

3 posts in 1701 days


#7 posted 01-27-2010 03:54 AM

Thanks for the reply! I will definitely keep it – perfect timing that I’m getting into woodworking this year, right? :) I’ll let you know when it’s dried out and I try to make something with it -

-Josh

View mmh's profile

mmh

3422 posts in 2379 days


#8 posted 02-26-2010 09:27 PM

Did the reddish wood retain it’s color? I really love the red/orange woods.

-- "They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night." ~ Edgar Allan Poe

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1000 posts in 2039 days


#9 posted 02-27-2010 12:34 AM

Still waiting to find out on that one, mmh. I haven’t been into that part of my wood racks in a long time. Hopefully soon, and of course I’ll post all about it in my blog. Thanks!

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View Jim Jakosh's profile

Jim Jakosh

11489 posts in 1763 days


#10 posted 06-04-2014 06:15 PM

Very interesting, Gary. My friend it Apache Junction,Az just called yesterday and said they had a dead bottle brush tree in the park and they cut it out of there. He found the wood to be a pretty red even after being dead for 3 years. He is saving it for me. I saw your story and it is nice to see what it looks like so now I can start drooling!

Thanks, Jim

-- Jim Jakosh.....Practical Wood Products...........Learn something new every day!! Variety is the Spice of Life!!

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