Terminalia melanocarpa

black damson in flower


Terminalia melanocarpa

F.Muell. 1862

pronounced: ter-min-AH-lee-uh mell-an-oh-KAR-puh

(Combretaceae — the falsse almond family)


common name: black damson

native 4Terminalia is derived from the Latin terminus, end; melanocarpa is from the Greek μελας (melas), black, and καρπος (karpos), fruit.

The Combretaceae family can trace its name back to the time of the Roman Empire. Pliny the Elder used the word combretum in his Naturalis Historia (c. 77–79 AD) to describe what seems to be a kind of rush, perhaps Luzula sylvatica subsp. sylvatica. One of the disciples of Linnaeus, Pehr Löfling (1729–1756), who collected in the Madrid area, and later in the Canary Islands and Venezuela, used Combretum as the genus name when he described the bushwillows. The word was later adapted for the name of the whole Combretaceae family, of which the Terminalia genus is a member. I must mention that there is currently a question mark about the naming of this species – the Kew Gardens plant list does not accept the name as valid.

All of the Terminalia have the characteristic branching pattern of the genus, where the branches leave the stem at a broad angle, and several branches arise about the same level. This is not usually quite as noticeable in the ‘wild’ Terminalia as it is in the Terminalia catappa (beach almond) planted along most of the foreshores on the island, as these have been mostly pruned when young to accentuate the feature, and to produce tidy-looking trees. All Terminalia have obovate leaves, all have white, heavily-scented flowers in racemes. Some people object to the scent of the flowers, but most would agree, if they look closely, that the flowers are very pretty – see the close-up photograph. The heady scent of the flowers is to attract the pollinators, mostly bats and moths. Terminalia melanocarpa has leaves to about 12 by 7.5 cm, quite a lot smaller than those of Terminalia catappa and Terminalia muelleri. Domatia are rare, or entirely absent. The flower spikes are 5 – 6 mm in diameter, and up to 10 cm or so long. The mature fruits are quite small, only up to about 3 cm in length by 2 cm in width. While the fruit is still immature, there is a continuous ring around it. This species is usually found in rocky areas close to the sea.

A by-product of all of our Terminalia species is the attraction of their fruit to the Red-tailed Black Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus magnificus). These are a seasonal visitor to the island, usually flying over from their normal haunt of Pallerenda on the mainland, where there is a plentiful supply of beach almonds and other similar native fruits. The cockatoos prune off the fruit-bearing twigs, crack the outer nut, and leave the nuts to soften up on the ground beneath the trees. They return about a week later to eat the softened nut. If I may be forgiven for saying so, these black cockatoos make a welcome change from our native population of sulphur-crested white cockatoos, who are much more raucous and destructive than their black cousins.

The caterpillars of the Bright Oakblue Arhopala madytus butterfly feed on the tree.


Photographs taken near the old jetty in Geoffrey Bay 2011, 2017
Page last updated 19th April 2019