Alectryon connatus

hairy alectryon


Alectryon connatus

(F.Muell.) Radlk. 1878

pronounced: a-LECK-tree-on kon-NAH-tuss

(Sapindaceae — the lychee family)

common name: hairy alectryon

native 4Alectryon from the Greek αλεκτρυων (alectryon), a cock, referring to the cockscomb appearance of a ridge on the fruit. It was the name of a Greek youth who stood guard outside Aphrodite’s door when she was visited in the night by Ares, the god of war. Alectryon fell asleep, and Helios, the sun god, was able to enter the room and discover the lovers. As a punishment, the youth was turned into a cock, who daily announces the arrival of the sun. Connatus in botanical Latin means ‘fused together’: con, together, natus from nasco to be born, grow from, descend from.

Although most authorities use “connatus” as the specific, The Plant List of Kew Gardens gives it as “connatum”. Although I normally follow Kew slavishly in matters of taxonomy, I am not doing so in this case: the generic is masculine in gender, and the specific, according to the rules of nomenclature, should agree with the generic, and have the masculine ending. I note with interest that Kew’s internal databases agree with me. Kew also treats other species of Alectryon as being named in the masculine.

This tree occurs in Cape York Peninsular, north-east Queensland, and right down the coastal strip of Queensland, and also in New Guinea. It grows at altitudes up to 800 m in dry rainforest and its margins, and in littoral rainforest.

The type specimen was collected in Moreton Bay, and the tree photographed is outside the fence of the sewerage works on the West Point Road, by the turn-off to Cockle Bay.

The plant grows as a shrub or quite a large tree, up to about 20 m tall.
The leaves are compound, with the rachis tip extended; the young growth and terminal buds are yellowish and hairy. There are 2 - 4 (or occasionally 6) leaflets per compound leaf, alternate or opposite on the rachis, and sessile or very shortly stalked. The leaflet blades are about 4 - 12 by 4.5 cm. They are glossy green above, paler and sometimes hairy below. They are blunt or notched at the apex.

The tree usually flowers February – March, the flowers greenish yellow in terminal panicles. The calyx lobes are broadly ovate, about 1.5 mm long. The petals are slightly longer than the calyx, and their inner surface is hairy. The base of the ovary is surrounded by an orange gland.

The fruit is an orange capsule with 3-4 lobes, each containing a black seed surrounded by a fleshy red aril. The fruit is about 8-12 by 8-20 mm in size, and pubescent on the outer surface.

This tree is very attractive to butterflies, and to seed, fruit, nectar and insect eating birds, giving them both food and shelter. It also hosts the soapberry bugs Leptocoris mitellatus, L. ruformarginatus and L. tagalicus.

When given room to spread, this is an attractively shaped tree with a dense canopy.

Photographed by West Point Road 2013
Page last updated 7th December 2019