Homalanthus nutans

native bleeding heart


Homalanthus nutans

(G.Forst.) Guill. 1837

pronounced: hoe-muh-LAN-thuss NUT-anz

(Euphorbiaceae — the spurge family)

a.k.a — Homalanthus populifolius

Omalanthus nutans
Omalanthus populifolius
common names: native bleeding heart, native poplar, Queensland poplar

native 4I believe I have used the correct name for this little tree. It is known by so many scientific names (even more than those listed above), that the tree is probably just as confused as I was when researching it. Homalanthus is derived from the Greek 'ομαλος (homalos), flat, even, and ανθος (anthos), a flower. It is easy to see how the confusion about the generic crept in, as the initial ‘h’, in Greek, is a breathing (’) rather than a letter of the alphabet, and the written Greek word looks as if it begins with an ‘o’. Nutans is Latin for ‘nodding’, and populifolius is from populus, the poplar tree, and folium, a leaf; has leaves like the poplar.

This rainforest plant often grows in disturbed areas of the forest, and may be a bushy shrub or a little tree up to about 6 m tall. It is highly regarded by rainforest regenerators because it grows quickly, and they use it as a pioneer species. It occurs naturally from Coen in North Queensland down the coastal strip as far south as the NSW - Victoria border, at altitudes of up to about 500 m. It also occurs on some of the Pacific Islands, especially Samoa, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Fiji. The little tree photographed is in the remnant rainforest at the head of Gustav Creek in Nelly Bay.

The trunk is cylindrical, with greyish brown bark, fairly smooth but with some irregularities. The branchlets appear thick, and are green or reddish. The young stems and petioles exude a whitish sap.

The leaves are triangular to cordate, and peltate. The blades are from about 7 – 12 cm long by 6 – 8 cm wide, both surfaces glabrous with the lower surface often greyish, on petioles (often reddish in colour) up to about 12 cm long. The stipules are about 1 – 2 cm long. The leaves turn red when senescent, hence the bleeding heart common name.

The tree is monoecious, with greenish yellow flowers on short pedicels in terminal racemes. Neither male nor female flowers have any petals. In the male flowers, the stamens are borne on a central receptacle; the filaments are very short, or absent, the anthers globose, only about 1 mm wide. In the female flowers there are two styles, about 2 mm long.

The fruits are globose 2-lobed capsules, laterally compressed, about 1 cm long, the style persistent at the apex. The seeds are partly covered by a fleshy aril, and germinate quickly when the warmth of direct sunlight is available; they also have a long dormancy period. The fruits are eaten by many birds, including the Brown Cuckoo Dove, the Silvereye, Bowerbirds, Currawongs and Lewin’s Honeyeater.

The indigenous inhabitants and Chinese miners used freshly crushed leaves to stop bleeding. In Samoa, a concoction made from the bark is used to treat hepatitis.


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.


Photographed in Nelly Bay, 2014
Last updated 14th January 2019