Planchonia careya

cocky apple


Planchonia careya

(F.Muell.) R.Knuth 1939

pronounced: plan-SHON-ee-uh KARE-ee-uh

(Lecythidaceae — the Brazil nut family)


common names: cocky apple, billy goat plum

native 4The genus Planchonia is named after the 19th century botanist Jules Émile Planchon, who is best remembered for his work in saving the French grape vineyards from Phylloxera vastatrix, a microscopic, yellow aphid-like pest from the United States. The careya is for Dr. William Carey, a Baptist missionary, linguist and enthusiastic amateur botanist who worked in Bengal early in that century.

The Cocky Apple is a common tree across northern tropical Australia and down the east coast to about Fraser Island, in open forests and woodlands. It is usually between 4 and 10 metres high, and briefly deciduous in the dry season. Before they fall, the leaves develop ‘autumn colours’. The bark is grey, rough, slightly corky, and fissured. The leaves are oval-shaped and taper to the base. Their upper surface is a shiny light green, and a duller green on the underneath. They feel a little leathery to the touch, and their margins have slightly rounded teeth.

The flowers are large, white and fleshy, with many pink and white stamens up to about 6 cm long. The tree flowers quite prolifically, but nocturnally. The flowers open in the early evening, and by morning most of them have fallen to form a colourful carpet on the forest floor. The flowering period is normally from about July to October. Where there are large numbers of these trees, the flowers are very popular with young girls for threading on string to make leis.

The fruit is green, egg-shaped and smooth, and can grow up to about 9 cm long. The seeds are contained in fibrous, cheesy flesh, and the fruit was Aboriginal “bush tucker”. The Aborigines also used many of the plant parts for medicinal purposes, and made boomerangs from the wood. As the common names of this tree suggest, the fruit is eaten by cockatoos, and also by goats.

The caterpillars of several Lepidoptera feed on the cocky apple, including:

      • the Emperor Moth Syntherata janetta;
      • the Yellow Peach Moth Conogethes punctiferalis;
      • the Brownntail Gum Moth Euproctis lutea;
      • the Amethyst Jewel Hypochrysops elgneri;
      • the Rare Redeye Chaetocneme denitza;
      • the moth Gnathmocerodes euplectra; and
      • the Copper Jewel Hypochrysops apelles.

This plant is one of those collected in 1770 by Banks and Solander during the voyage of the Endeavour. It was collected at Cape Grafton.


Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions
Photographs taken at Picnic Bay 2007-2011
Page last updated 15th March 2019