This handsome endemic rainforest tree is known commonly Red Ash, although it has no relation to real ashes (Fraxinus). Instead, Alphitonias are related to Jujubes (Ziziphus).
The species is also known as Sarsaparilla due to the liniment smell that it emits when leaves or twigs are broken.
The genus Alphitonia is derived from a Greek word meaning “pearl barley” (Someone please tell me why – I see no relation whatsoever).
Among the Alphitonias I find this species rather interesting.
Most other Alphitonias are more adapted to high light environments and so are found near rainforest margins.
This species however seems to do alright with some shading, and I have seen individuals with a girth of over 30cm diameter in a rainforest.
I have yet to see this species in open areas, and oddly enough, the species doesn’t seem to have many seedlings either in the shade. This could mean that it only recruits under exceptional conditions, such as during a large disturbance.
Alphitonia whitei is easily distinguished from the other common species (Alphitonia petriei and A. excelsa) by having larger elliptic leaves and a glossy or shiny dark green upper leaf surface.
The fruits are also a bit rounder than A. petriei (more flattened fruits). The leaf undersides of A. whitei are also almost if not totally white. In the other Alphitonias, the leaf underside often still looks like it is a bit grey rather than wholly white.