Coelospermum reticulatum

medicine bush


Coelospermum reticulatum

(F.Muell.) Benth. 1867

pronounced: koh-el-oh-SPER-mum reh-tick-yoo-LAH-tum

(Rubiaceae — the gardenia family)

synonym —Pogonolobus reticulatus

F.Muell. 1867

pronounced: poh-gon-oh-LOW-buss reh-tick-yoo-LAR-tuss

common names: medicine bush, djumdum

native 4Coelospermun is derived from κοιλος (koilos), hollow, and σπερμα (sperma), a seed; reticulatus is Latin for ‘net-like’. Pogonolobus is from the Greek πωγον (pogon), a beard, and λοβος (lobos), a lobe, a pod.  Djumdum is an Aboriginal name for the plant, from the Northern Territory.

This Australian native is a straggly shrub, from 1 to 3 metres tall, and sometimes a scrambler or climber. It is found in Arnhem Land, Cape York Peninsula, down the Queensland coastal strip as far as Brisbane, and occasionally in the Channel Country of South-west Queensland. It is found in coastal scrubs, especially dry rainforest and the moister types of Eucalypt woodland, along stream banks, and on stony ridges. The grey bark is rough, corky and tessellated.

The opposite leaves are stiff and coarse-textured, harsh to the touch, ovate in shape, tapering to the base, and with a small pointed tip. They are a dull light green on both sides. They measure about 3 – 9 cm long by 2 – 6 cm wide. The margins are sometimes irregular. The venation is prominent, and reticulated.

Creamy-white flowers are borne. They are tubular, hairy inside, and scented, 1 cm or a little more in length, in small terminal clusters. Their flowering period is from about September to March.

Globular fleshy berries follow. These are smooth, green, turning blackish when ripe, and 1 cm or a little more in diameter. They contain 3 or 4 seeds, that are embedded in pulp. The fruits are edible.

While this is a straggly shrub in the bush, its shape could no doubt be improved in the garden, with watering, fertilizing, and pruning. It may be propagated from fresh seed.

Especially in Arnhem Land, the roots of the plant are used by the indigenous peoples to obtain an excellent yellow dye, used for colouring the baskets woven from Pandanus leaves. The colour comes from the inner bark of the roots, and the dyes produced have a strong, fast colour. The natural yellow of the dye can be changed to various shades of orange and rich tan by the addition of ashes from various eucalyptus trees that grow nearby. The boiled fruits produce a black dye, and the bark also makes a dye. The stems are used as fire sticks.

I have been unable to discover any medicinal uses for the plant, and so have no idea why it is called Medicine Bush.


Photographs taken at The Forts 2013
Page last updated 17th March 2019