Neolitsea australiensis

green bollygum


Neolitsea australiensis

Kosterm. 1979

pronounced: nee-oh-LITZ-ee-uh oss-trah-lee-EN-siss

(Lauraceae — the laurel family)


common name: green bollygum

native 4Neolitsea is from the Greek νεος (neos), new, and Litsea (from litse, Chinese for ‘little, small’) the name of another genus in Lauraceae; australiensis, of course, means ‘of or from Australia’. The derivation of ‘Bollygum’ is more difficult. My best guess is that is from the word 'boll', a round capsule, referring to the shape of the fruit. This word derives from an Old English word, bolla, a bowl or ball.

This is a small, slender understorey tree, found in tropical and sub-tropical rainforest in lowland and coastal ranges north of Ourimbah in NSW, right up to Cairns in North Queensland. It is also found on the sunny edges of the forest. The bark is greyish white in colour, with a firm, hard texture.

The simple leaves, arranged in a whorl below the growing bud, are ovate to elliptic, usually 6 – 11 cm long and 2 – 6 cm wide, the apex acuminate, the upper surface glossy green and glabrous, the lower surface slightly glaucous, usually pale grey, glabrous except when very young, and then with straight, appressed hairs. The colour of the leaf’s underside is caused by a waxy coating that can be rubbed off with the finger. The leaves are mostly 3-veined from near the base, with a glabrous petiole 1.5 – 2.5 cm long. New growth is a striking pink, and very soft compared with the firm mature leaves.

The flowers are tiny, about 2.5 mm long, cream in colour. The pedicels are 2–3 mm long. The perianth segments are glabrous, and only the bases persist on the fruit.

The fruit is more-or-less globose, up to a little over 1 cm in diameter, black, seated on a disk-like cupule 2–  3 mm deep. The fruits are usually ripe in May or June. The photographs were taken of a tree in the vine scrub in Nelly Bay, not far from X-Base.

The caterpillars of the moth Corymica pryeri feed on this plant.

The timber from this tree is firm and straight-grained, usually with no pronounced figure. The heartwood varies from light cream to pale straw in colour, and normally there is no marked colour variation between sapwood and heartwood. It is not very durable: life expectancy above ground is reckoned to be less than 7 years, and in ground less than 5 years. Untreated sapwood is susceptible to lyctine borer attack, and is not resistant to termites. The timber can be dried satisfactorily using either air or kiln drying. The wood is soft, and easily worked with hand tools. It machines and turns well to a smooth surface, and seasoned timber will readily accept stain, polish and paint. It was formerly used in general house framing, linings, mouldings and non-structural joinery, but nowadays is rarely used for these purposes; it is still used for plywood, furniture, turned items, carving and picture frames.

Another Australian species, the White Bollygum (Neolitsea dealbata), is found from Illawarra north. It is generally a larger tree, and has much larger, drooping leaves, with the juvenile leaves white in colour and covered in dense rusty-coloured hairs. The bark is dark brown, and scaly. I have not found any of this species on the island – but that is not to say there are none here.

Bollygum is a children’s book written and illustrated by Garry Fleming. Set in a forest, it tells the story of a small possum from the city who is ‘relocated’ to the bush. The possum is befriended by bush characters, including Wombat, Ringtail and Goanna. The book has been reprinted many times, and has sold over 100,000 copies. A number of children’s theme parks have sprung up to exploit the book’s popularity. Probably the best known of these is at Kingslake, Victoria. Bollygum has also become a popular name for child-care centres.


Published by Weldon Kids, 1995


Photographs taken at Nelly Bay 2010, 2012, 2015
Page last updated 10th February 2019