Most people are acquainted with the nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) but probably few people in Far North Queensland know that right around them there grows native nutmeg trees. Was very pleased to see a species of Myristica fruiting in Cairns. From the fruit itself it is obvious that this is a relative of the nutmeg (Myristica fragrans). Just to be sure, I bruised the fruit wall and there it was – the characteristic smell of nutmeg. The red aril, botanically called a mace, forms a ‘webbing’ around the black seed. The tree is actually quite widespread in rainforest. Since coming to Cairns I have been seeing it a fair bit around in rainforest around Cairns and in the highlands around Kuranda. The native Australians of the Yidinygi tribe referred to this plant as gurrmba and used this species as a food plant (I presume the mace).
I think the distinctive features of this species are the combination of the pale glaucous undersides of the leaves and the somewhat brownish terminal developing leaf bud. The crushed leaves also emit a slight nutmeg smell.
The flowers are small and urn shaped, found in clusters in the leaf axils. Examined close up, it can be interpreted that these flowers are without petals, with only the yellow sepals surrounding the stamens and styles.
Seen another species of Myristica, M. insipida in the Cairns Botanic Gardens but that species has much larger leaves, rounder leaf bases and looks more robust in general.
Myristicas can easily be confused with members of the custard apple family and the laurel family. It is especially so in South East Asia where the forests there have numerous species of Myristicaceae. In those instances, a little incision should be made in the bark and the Myristicaceae will typically start weeping red sap that looks convincingly like blood!