Leea novoguineensis (Vitaceae)

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Known in Australia as the Bandicoot berry, this shrub is a well-known pioneer species, and related Leea species occur throughout Southeast Asia and Asia, usually also in successional habitats.

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The leaves of this species are alternate and two-times compound and the leaflets are toothed. At the base of the leaf stalk there is a large stipule.

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An astute observer might notice the similarity of the flowers and fruits to those of grape vines, and indeed, this shrubs belong to the grape family (Vitaceae).

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This fast-growing can grow to a 4m or higher, but plants that are commonly encountered by roadsides are typically no taller than 2 meters.

The species produces very straight green stems, and have to my understanding been used by aboriginal people as spears.

This species was previously know in Australia as Leea indica, but recent molecular studies (Molina et al. 2013) have restricted the name of this species to specimens from India, and named the Australian specimens L. novoguineensis.

References

Molina, J. E., Wen, J., & Struwe, L. (2013). Systematics and biogeography of the non‐viny grape relative Leea (Vitaceae). Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 171(2), 354-376.

Posted in Lifeform - Trees & Shrubs, Traditional Plant Use, Vitaceae (Grape family) | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Cyrtandra baileyi (Gesneriaceae)

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In wet places in the Australian rainforest dwells Cyrtandra baileyi, a delicate relative of the African violet. This shrub which appears to be restricted to permanently wet places in rainforest, is endemic to the region and was first collected by botanist Frederick Manson Bailey.

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At a first glance, one might interpret Cyrtandra to have alternate leaves, but closer inspection would reveal a rather strange feature – at each leaf node, there is pointed appendage opposite each leaf. Cyrtandra actually has opposite leaves, one of which is greatly reduced.

What came to my mind was a rather macabre analogy: Cyrtandra has a leaf with a “vanishing twin” – the phenomenon in animals where a fetus in a multi-gestation pregnancy which dies in utero and is then partially or completely reabsorbed by the twin.

Interestingly, there are other plants that do this, but that is another story for another time.

Posted in Endemics, Gesneriaceae (African Violet family), Habitat - Rain forest, Lifeform - Trees & Shrubs | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Allophyllus cobbe (Sapindaceae)

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Meet “Allo the old cobber” – or at least what I imagine this familiar fella should be known as in Australia. Known to science since 1779, this shrub of mangroves and coastal regions is a well known and variable entity throughout it’s pantropical distributional. In Asia, this plant has been known under various other names, and heaps of varieties have been named (see the formidable Asianplant.net).

In quite a number of ways this species is an aberrant member of the Sapindaceae, or at least, it bears little resemblance to other Australian members of the family.

A. cobbe has trifoliate leaves instead of a pinnate leaf with a “pin”. Also, it has fleshy drupes (which are edible).

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I find it curious why this plant has the common name of titberry, but perhaps alludes this alludes to it’s allure of the bright red berries to birds of that namesake. But I will supply this little titbit of information – the specific name “cobbbe” is derived from Sri Lankan name ‘kobbae’.

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I have seen little about it’s uses in Australia, but elsewhere in it’s range it is known to have quite a list of uses. The wood is reportedly hard but not very durable, and is mainly used as a timber for the indoors, and for firewood. In the Bismarck Archipelago, the wood and branches are used for by seafarers as floats of outrigger canoes, and for marking fish trap locations.

The leaves pulped, or an extraction or decoction of them, and also root decoctions, are used in native medicine against fever and stomache. In Perak, children afflected with certain mouth diseases are treated with the plant, and in in Mindanao, the scraped bark is applied to rigid abdomen, and the bark to burns. In New Guinea, the fruits are used as a fish poison.

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Posted in Edible plants, Habitat - Coastal forest, Habitat - Mangrove, Lifeform - Trees & Shrubs, Medicinal Plants, Sapindaceae (Rambutan family), Useful plants | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Irvingbaileya australis (Stemonuraceae)

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It is no surprise that the tropics harbour some of the weirdest looking fruits on the planet, and based on this criterion, this obscured small endemic rainforest tree or shrub, Irvingbaileya australis, in the Far North Queensland Wet Tropics must qualify as being among one of the strangest.

In the 1940s, the botanist Richard A. Howard named this genus of only one member in
honour of a fellow botanist Irving Widmer Bailey (1884-1967), and described the strange fruit in the following terms:

Drupe plano-convex, the pulvinus on the convex surface of the fruit surmounting a T-shaped keel of the putamen, the other surface plane or only slightly concave

Over three quarters of a century later, we see the following description in the Australian tropical rainforest key:

Fruits consist of a green carpel…and a waxy, white, succulent, ovoid appendage…

I thought I’d offer my own:

A large fleshy white pea-like thingy mounted atop a broad green surfboard

I read that cassowaries and other native beasties feast on this white thingy when available. I squeezed it and tasted the juice (don’t follow my example) and it was bitter.

Of the leaves there is little to say that will help with identification. They are, simple, entire, alternately arranged, shiny green, slightly less so below. No stipules. However, the leaves that fall onto the ground dry a dull black shade.

The flowers are also not particularly showy, and don’t even seem to open up fully. But they do look like they have very hairy stamens.

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The flowers don’t seem to open very widely, and the filaments (the stalk that bears the anthers) are densely hairy.

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Very young developing carpel (on right of photo). The “appendage” that will swell into the large white pea-like structure is already evident.

References

Howard, R. A. (1943). Studies of the icacinaceae—VI. Irvingbaileya and codiocarpus, two new genera of the icacineae. Brittonia, 5(1), 47-57.

Schori, M. (2010). A systematic revision of Gomphandra (Stemonuraceae) (Doctoral dissertation, Ohio University).

Posted in Endemics, Habitat - Rain forest, Lifeform - Trees & Shrubs, Stemonuraceae (Stemonurus family) | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Prumnopitys ladei (Podocarpaceae)

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Few would think of Australia as a land of conifers, because of the aridity of the landscape. But conifers like Prumnopitys ladei is a testimony to the importance of Australian rainforest as a living museum of conifers.

P. ladei is a Podocarp (a conifer belonging to the Podocarpaceae family. This family forms part of what some conifer scientists would like to call the southern conifers – conifers which are predominantly found in the wet forests of the Southern Hemisphere. Fossil records suggest that Podocarps were quite prolific during the Cenozoic period, but now their species diversity is greatly reduced and most lving members are confined to the Australasian region. This relictual species is known by the common names of Brown Pine, Mount Spurgeon Black Kauri Pine or Mount Spurgeon Black Pine.

The distribution of P. ladei is rather restricted, with plants growing only on the Mount Spurgeon and Mount Lewis at elevations of 1000-1200 m. Fortunately, the species is quite hardy and has been relatively popular in cultivation. A healthy specimen grows in Gondwana gardens of the Cairns Botanical Gardens at lowland altitudes.

The species is instantly distinguishable from other Podocarp (genus Podocarpus, Sundacarpus and Agathis) by the small leaves.

Posted in Endemics, Habitat - Rain forest, Iconic Plants, Lifeform - Trees & Shrubs, Podocarpaceae (Podocarp family) | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Meiogyne hirsuta (Annonaceae)

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This small rainforest shrub is endemic to the region and when not in flower is probably best recognized it’s longish obovate hairy leaves with very short leaf stalks and bold venation. Like many other members of the Annonaceae family, the leaf veins of this species form loops within the leaf margin. The small fruits are bright orange and covered in brown hairs.

The species was previous known as Ancana hirsuta and also Meiogyne sp. (Henrietta Creek LWJ 512).

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Raised venation and a rather dark green leaf underside

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Bright orange fruit covered with hairs

Posted in Annonaceae (Custard Apple family), Endemics, Habitat - Rain forest, Lifeform - Trees & Shrubs | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Neolitsea dealbata (Lauraceae)

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The long list of common names (Black Ash, Grey Bollywood, Hairy Leaved Bollygum, Native Mulberry, Pigeon-berry Tree, Velvet-leaf Bollywood, White Bollygum, White Bollywood) must be a reflection of how common this species is. There is hardly a roadside edge in the tropics, especially mid-altitudes and above, where one does not encounter this small tree or shrub. Indeed, this species is quite clearly associated with disturbed areas in rainforest, although it is one of those interesting successional species that appears to tolerate very shaded environments as well.

The species grows up to 12 metres high. The glossy, elliptic to obovate leaves have whitish undersides – a result of a waxy covering. Other Lauraceae do this too, but this species and the related Neolitsea brassii is instantly distinguished from other genera by their leaves appearing in whorls along the stem.

The often dull-purplish younger leaves and branchlets are covered with brown hairs. The flowers are in tight clusters, and give rise to attractive small berry-like fruits which ripen black.

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The whitish leaf undersides are a result of a waxy covering that can rub off.

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The flowers occur in tight clusters

Posted in Habitat - Eucalypt Forest, Habitat - Rain forest, Lauraceae (Laurel family) | Tagged , , | 2 Comments