Lophanthera lactescens

golden chain tree


Lophanthera lactescens

Ducke 1923

pronounced: loff-AN-ther-uh lak-TESS-kenz

(Malpighiaceae — the acerola family)


common name: golden chain tree

If you are wondering (as I was) why a plant family has such an extraordinary name as Malpighiaceae, I have found that it was named in honour of Marcello Malpighi (1628–1694), the Italian professor and anatomist who was one of the pioneers of microscopy. In 1655, he became a lecturer in logic at the University of Bologna; in 1656, he was appointed to the chair of theoretical medicine at the University of Pisa; in 1659, he returned to Bologna as lecturer in theoretical, then practical, medicine; from 1662 to 1666, he held the principal chair in medicine at the University of Messina; finally, in 1666, he returned again to Bologna, where he remained for the rest of his teaching and research career. In 1691, at the age of sixty-three, Malpighi was called by his friend Pope Innocent XII to serve as the pontiff’s personal physician. Reluctantly, Malpighi agreed and moved to Rome, where he died on November 29, 1694, in his room in the Quirinal Palace. Early in his medical career he became absorbed in using the newly-discovered microscope to study a wide range of living tissue – animal, insect and plant. He made many important discoveries, among them the confirmation of William Harvey’s revolutionary theory of the circulation of the blood. He had discovered the capillaries, the microscopic link between veins and arteries that Harvey – before the microscope – had only been able to postulate. He also was the first to observe a ‘host of red atoms’ in the blood – the red corpuscles. He also conducted ground-breaking research in plant and insect microscopy.

Lophanthera comes from the Greek λοφος (lophos), a tuft of hair, and ανθος (anthos), a flower, stamen. This refers to the longitudinal wings found on the outer locules of each anther. Lactescens is Latin for ‘turning to milk’.

There are 5 species of tree and shrub in this genus, all but one of them native to Amazonian South America. The exception is Lophanthera hammelii, which is from Costa Rica. Lophanthera lactescens, the Golden Chain Tree, has become popular in the last couple of decades as a cultivated ornamental in many warm regions of both the Old World and the New. There are quite a few planted on Magnetic Island.

The simple obovate leaves are in whorls. The inflorescence is pendant, with showy golden yellow flowers. These are followed by a dry fruit up to 2 cm long, containing a single black seed. These seeds do not remain viable for very long.


Photographs taken at Nelly Bay 2010
Page last updated 28th January 2019