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Duranta erecta L. 1753 cv. Geisha Girl
pronounced: dew-RAN-tuh ee-REK-tuh
(Verbenaceae — the lantana family)
synonym: Duranta repens L. 1753
pronounced: dew-RAN-tuh REE-penz
common names: Geisha Girl, Pigeon Berry
Duranta was named for Castore Durante, 16th century botanist and papal physician to Sixtus V; erecta is from the Latin erectus, upright; in the synonym, repens means spreading, from the Latin verb repo, to crawl or creep.
This is a popular ornamental shrub up to 4 m tall, usually trimmed as a hedge. There are many plantings of it for hedging purposes on council land in Townsville and on Magnetic Island, particularly in the Picnic Bay Mall. It is a modern cultivar of the old Duranta repens, which many consider to be a weed, and is indeed declared a noxious weed in parts of New South Wales. It has also become a serious pest in parts of the wet tropics of Queensland, where it forms dense, impenetrable thickets. There are numerous cultivars, some with variegated foliage, as well as different colour forms. The 'Geisha Girl' cultivar was developed in Japan, and it does not appear to be as invasive as some of the others.
‘Geisha Girl’ is a shrub or small tree with drooping branches, occasionally spiny on older plants. It prefers full sun, and is moderately salt-tolerant, although the ones on the Picnic Bay mall tend to die back on the seaward side. The leaves are in pairs or threes, oval, occasionally toothed, up to 8 cm long with a short leaf stalk. The flowers are blue or pale purple, sometimes almost white, with white centres, and often with two darker stripes, trumpet-shaped, in clusters in the spring, summer and autumn, borne on spikes 4–9 cm long arising from the leaf axils. They are delicately perfumed. The fruit is rounded, orange or yellow, about 1 cm in diameter, in large clusters. Each fruit has one large seed in the centre. The plant’s sap is clear. The seeds are spread by birds, and can colonize densely forested areas, especially near waterways. Regarded now as a useful garden and hedging plant, it still has the potential to escape and become an environmental pest.
As well as making an attractive hedge, ‘Geisha Girl’ can be grown on a trellis like a vine; or it can be shaped as a patio tree with only one trunk. If not trimmed at all it will form a round mound with weeping branches. It responds well to a good trim after flowering – this encourages bushiness. Durantas bloom on the new growth, and the flowers attract butterflies.
If eaten, the fruit can cause gastro-intestinal irritation, vomiting, and diarrhoea.
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay
Page last updated 16th November 2016