Pavetta australiensis

pavetta in flower


Pavetta australiensis

Bremek. 1934

pronounced: puh-VET-tuh oss-trah-lee-EN-sis

(Rubiaceae — the gardenia family)


common names: butterfly bush, pavetta

native 4Pavetta is from pawetta, the Sinhalese vernacular name for a small tree species found along the Malabar coast in India; australiensis is, as one would expect, botanical Latin for ‘of or from Australia’.

This is a large shrub, up to about 4 m tall, of the dry and subtropical rainforests of Queensland and NSW north from the McPherson Ranges, usually in the understorey. The plants photographed are in the forest bordering on Yule Street, Picnic Bay, and are a wonderful sight in their short flowering season.

The leaves are simple and opposite, oblanceolate to narrowly elliptic, to 4 - 15 cm in length, by 1 – 6 cm in width. The apex is acuminate to obtuse, the lamina thin-textured, more-or-less glossy, and glabrous. Triangular stipules are present on the stem between pairs of leaves. The lamina is dark green, soft and thin, while the midrib and the lateral veins, being lighter in colour, are clearly visible on both sides of the leaf. The leaves are softly succulent-looking. The petiole is 5 – 20 mm long.

The inflorescences are many-flowered, terminal above the uppermost leaves, subtended by fused bracts. The calyx is 1.5 – 2 mm long, the corolla white, the tube 10 – 15 mm long, the lobes 5 – 8 mm long. The style is twice the length of the corolla tube. The flowers are fragrant, appearing usually between late September and November, depending on the rainfall and temperatures. A very dry end to the year may prevent or restrict flowering. When this happens, there may be a flowering after the wet season.

The fruit is a black globular berry up to 6 mm in diameter, crowned by a persistent calyx, and ripening usually about 4 months after the flowers appear.

This is a highly ornamental plant very suitable for planting in gardens, happy in full sun or semi-shade, and preferring well-drained soils. The bush may be propagated from cuttings, and fairly copious watering will help it to grow rapidly. Once established, it is quite hardy, and needs little water. It has the added advantage of being very attractive to butterflies, as the common name suggests – they feed on the nectar in the flowers. The ripe fruits are eaten by frugivores.

Caterpillars that feed on their leaves include:

      • the moth Macroglossum hirundo;
      • the Coffee Hawk Moth Cephonodes hylas; and
      • the Gardenia Bee Hawk Cephonodes kingii.

In the garden, pruning will help to maintain bushy growth, and prevent the bush from becoming too straggly. It can make a useful screen plant.
This plant deserves to be seen more frequently in our gardens.


Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2010, 2011
Page last updated 5th March 2019