Phytolacca octandra (Phytolaccaceae)

Phytolacca octandra DSC_0565 (2)

Phytolacca octandra is a very descriptively named soft-stemmed shrub or herb by Linnaeas (Greek: “phyton” meaning plant; Neo-Latin: “lacca” meaning lacquer, alluding to the red dye of the berries). The common name Inkweed is also an allusion to the red inky juice in the ripe berries. The specific epithet “octandra” refers to the eight sections of the fruit.

This soft leaved weedy shrub is a native of tropical America but in Australia is found widely from the tropics to temperate regions. In tropical rainforest, it is found in road clearing or rainforest gaps.

The berries look enticing but are known to be poisonous.

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Freshly open flowers

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The flowers appear to mature red.

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Fleshy fruits with five to eight sections.

Posted in Lifeform - Herbs, Lifeform - Trees & Shrubs, Non-Natives, Phytolaccaceae (Pokeweed family) | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Saurauia andreana (Actinidiaceae)

Saurauia andreana Ellinnja Falls DSC_0412 (5)

This hairy rainforest shrub is the only Australian representative of the Kiwi fruit family. Interestingly it was first named Dillenia andreana by Mueller, probably due to to the superficial similarly of the appearance of the flowers to Dillenia. But of course, Dillenia is from a totally different family altogether (See Dillenia alata).

Andre’s Saurauia is often found along water courses in lowland to upland rainforest. The leaves are alternate, wider nearer the apex (i.e. obovate-shaped), have toothed margins, and are hairy throughout. The flowers are borne in the leaf axils and often facing downwards. The petals are white or white with hints of pink.

Saurauia andreana Millaa Millaa Falls DSC_0361 (6)

Saurauia andreana Millaa Millaa Falls DSC_0361 (8)
Developing flower

Saurauia andreana Ellinnja Falls DSC_0412 (1)

Posted in Actinidiaceae(Kiwifruit family), Habitat - Rain forest, Lifeform - Trees & Shrubs | 3 Comments

Gmelina philippensis (Lamiaceae)

Gmelina philippensis IMG_5982

A native of Philippine islands, this ornamental shrub is also known as Parrot’s Beak. The down-hanging inflorescence that bear the bright yellow and curious looking flowers are botanically classified as a paniculate cyme. The yellow flowers are accompanied by purple-brown leaf-like bracts.

Posted in Lamiaceae (Mint family), Lifeform - Trees & Shrubs, Non-Natives, Ornamental Plants | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Stephania japonica (Menispermaceae)

Stephania japonica Millaa Millaa Falls DSC_0394 (3)
The leaves of this species have a very distinctive glaucous underside,

This native vine species is known as the Tape Vine or Snake Vine and has three known subspecies. The flowers are some of the weirdest I have seen, where the stamens (pollen bearing parts of the flower) are fused together into a knob-like structure.

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The male flowers in a tight umbel, borne on yet another umbel

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The leaf stalk is attached on the inside of the lamina (i.e. peltate attachment)

Stephania japonica Millaa Millaa Falls DSC_0394 (6)
Slender vine habit

Stephania japonica Millaa Millaa Falls DSC_0394 (2)

Posted in Habitat - Rain forest, Lifeform - Climbers, Menispermaceae (Moonseed family) | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Acronychia acronychioides (Rutaceae)

Acronychia acronychioides DSC_0608 (2)

This endemic shrub/tree species is commonly known as the White Aspen, which makes little sense as it is nothing close to being an aspen (which belongs to temperate trees of the genus Populus). But delve a little into the scientific naming of this species and we open a can of worms.

The species was first named by Ferdinand von Mueller as belonging to the genus Euodia in 1864. And Mueller gave it the specific epithet “acronychioides“, in allusion to how this species looks like a plant from the genus Acronychia.

One year later in 1865 he described another plant (which was of the same species) and this he called Acronychia melicopoides. I am not sure if Mueller was aware that the plant he was describing was from the same species but now he was certainly clearer that this specimen was a species of Acronychia. Still he felt it must look like something else, a species of Melicope, hence the specific epithet “melicopoides“.

Over a century later. taxonomist Thomas Gordon Hartley finally decided that the plant should be named Aconychia acronychioides, the Acronychia that looks like an Acronychia, putting an end once and for all (I hope) to the rather absurd naming history of the species.

Acronychia acronychioides DSC_0620 (7)

Acronychia acronychioides DSC_0620 (1)

Acronychia acronychioides IMG_6918 (1)

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

Backhousia tetraptera (Myrtaceae)

Backhousia tetraptera

By world standards the rainforest flora of Australia is rather well described, but there are still species out there to name and discover. Such was the case with a mystery tree found at Mt Stuart near Townsville. Thus far the population at Mt Stuart is the only one known.

The species is a tree between 5 and 12 metres tall, with multiple trunks with a mottled flaking bark. The bark has a range of colors including grey, grey-brown and/or pink colouration, which gives the plant an appearance of a large Gossia sp.

Finally in 2012 the species of myrtle was formally described by Prof. Betsy Jackes and colleges. The species is so named because of the clustered and distinctive pink-white capsular fruits with four wings (hence “tetraptera”).

I’ve only had the pleasure of seeing the species as a cultivated specimen but I hope to one day see it in the wild.


Harrington MG, Jackes BR, Barrett MD, Craven LA, Barrett RL. 2012. Phylogenetic revision of Backhousieae (Myrtaceae): Neogene divergence, a revised circumscription of Backhousia and two new species. Australian Systematic Botany 25(6) 404-417

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

Savoring the Sapindacean Symphony

Jagera pseudorhus DSC_0523 (2)Sapindaceans. Or so I feel they deserve to be called. Many know them as the family of plants, the Sapindaceae, that gives us rambutans, lychees, longans, ackees, tamarinds, tuckeroos. What would tropical rainforest be without them. They may not be the tallest of trees, but collectively their contribution to tropical rainforest diversity and ecology ranks among the laurels (Lauraceae) and myrtles (Myrtaceae). In the Australian tropical rainforest at least, the Laurelian-Myrtacean-Sapindacean trinity rules.

The symphony of Sapindacean form is dramatic. As a family, the diversity of leaf and fruit forms amongst Sapindaceans are astounding. So much colour. So much texture. The Sapindacean symphony is well worth learning.

It turns out that spotting a Sapindacean in the rainforest is not difficult at all. One of the key characters of Sapindaceans can be very easily remembered by remembering their family name, SaPINdaceae. In most species, there is a very obvious “pin” at the tip of the compound leaf.

Sarcotoechia villosa DSC_0396 (8)
The SaPINdacean PIN (Note however the deviant Allophyllus and Cardiospermum)

The next very distinctive feature is that these compound leaves are almost always alternately arranged along the twigs.

And finally, the absence of stipules is another distinctive feature.

Now identifying species is a different matter altogether, and an immensely enjoyable one. Sapindaceans vary so much in leaflet shape, size, number, colour and texture, leaflet venation, leaflet margin features, leaflet accessory features that they never fail to entertain (and exasperate).

It is not easily to group genera of Sapindaceans by leaf features but some species do fall into somewhat readily recognizable groups.

Lets start with the BIG. Not in terms of tree size, but leaflet size. Some Sapindaceans have astonishingly large compound leaves (and leaflets). One of the wonders of the tropical far north must be to see Bernie’s Tamarind (Diploglottis bernieana). But Mischocarpus grandissimus is on par.

Diploglottis bernieana
Diploglottis bernieana is now widely planted locally. It is not apparent here but those leaflet are a whooping 30cm x 20cm.

Mischocarpus grandissimus
Mischocarpus grandissimus have large almost dinner-plate sized leaflets

Some Sapindaceans have leaves with glaucous undersides. The cultivated longan (Dimocarpus longan) is a good example but native examples are Castanospora, Cnesmocarpon, Dimocarpus, Guioa spp.

Castanospora alphandii
Castanospora alphandii is a prime example of a species with very glaucous leaflets.

Cnesmocarpon dasyantha DSC_0030 (1)
Cnesmocarpon dasyantha also has rather glaucous leaflets.

Many Sapindaceans have distinctively toothed leaflets. Examples are Alectryon tomentosus, some Cupaniopsis spp. Jagera sp., some Lepiderema spp. some Sarcotoechia spp. etc.

Jagera pseudorhus Cattana DSC_0048
Jagera pseudorhus, a common tree often found near the coast and slightly drier rainforest types. “Jager” is jagged.

In a number of species, the leaflet stalks are absent or reduced, often into a bulbous knob. Guioa spp are prime examples, but this also happens with some Sarcotoechia.

Sarcotoechia villosa DSC_0396 (2)
Sarcotoechia villosa with opposite leaflets with bulb-like stalks.

In some species, the rachis of the leaflets are winged – that is, the part of the leaf that holds the leaflets have wing-like bits of leaf lamina. This happens very conspicuously with Harpullia frutescens and H. rhyticarpa. The weird and wonderful savanna-occurring Atalaya also has this feature.

Harpullia rhyticarpa DSC_0870
Harpullia rhyticarpa has a winged rachis

Many Sapindaceans are spectacularly hairy. The different extent of hairiness and depth of hair colour give the Sapindacean symphony texture. In Diploglottis there is a great multitude of shades of leaf colour because of these hairs. Guioa lasioneura and Mischocarpus lachnocarpus are have nice and hairy leaves.

Diploglottis macrantha
Diploglottis macrantha has somewhat dull looking leaves

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Diploglottis smithii looks silvery on the underside, partly due to the hairs.

But of course, many Sapindaceans are bald, and shiny too, and infuriatingly within some of those genera already mentioned.

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Dictyoneura obtusa is bald and shiny. Note the bulb-like leaflet stalks

!Beware the Sapindacean imitators

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The Silky Oak (Cardwellia sublimis), yes sublime in its own right, is a Sapindacean imposter! It has alternate compound leaves, and even something like a PIN at the end of the compound leaf rachis. The bronzey-silvery sheen should be a good distingushing feature.

Dysoxylum latifolium DSC_0552 (14)
Dysoxylum latifolium also has the naughty habit of imposing as a Sapindacean. Can’t help there with distinguishing feature.

Closing remarks

The Sapindacean Symphony is playing at a rainforest close to you. Don’t miss it.

Posted in Habitat - Rain forest, Learning Plants, Lifeform - Trees & Shrubs, Sapindaceae (Rambutan family) | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment