Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The doughwoods





The Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney looks like a classic European garden landscape, but it’s packed with Australian rainforest trees. As I've mentioned before,  more than half the trees are native to Australia.

The colonial botanists and early Directors collected widely up the east coast to bring to Sydney a selection of fascinating species. One good example is the doughwood (Melicope).

The tree itself is untidy in appearance, and even in flower many species are not easy to spot. The leaves are usually divided into three leaflets and like most members of the Rutaceae family, they have a strong odour when crushed (think of fellow family members, boronias and citrus).

Mostly the flowers are white, small and obscure. An exception is the Pink-flowered Doughwood, Melicope elleryana (previously known as Euodia elleryana), with its crisp pink bouquets – you can see one in flower near the corner of the old Herbarium building opposite the Palm House.

This species extends from northern New South Wales through to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Its flowers glisten with nectar, which local birds and insects love.

In fact one specimen at our Mount Annan Botanic Garden attracted nine species of butterfly feeding on the flowers at the same time. In tropical Queensland, the larvae of the giant Ulysses Butterfly eat its leaves.

Another species featured in the Royal Botanic Gardens is the local Hairy-leaved Doughwood (Melicope micrococca). Its flowers are small and white, but often abundant and equally attractive to wildlife.

The 150 species of doughwood occur naturally from India and China through to New Zealand, with a dozen or so species in Hawaii, where they are called ‘Alani’. Only the Pink-flowered Doughwood is cultivated widely in Australia – to attract butterflies in northern Queensland – and birds can spread seed into nearby bush.

The good thing about them in horticulture is that they flower in summer, along with more showy Australian rainforest trees such as Queensland Maple (Flindersia brayleyana) and Lemon-scented Myrtle (Backhousia citriodora).

*Another story from the Radio Archives.

Image: Pink-flowered Doughwood in Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens

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