Aglaia elaeagnoidea



Aglaia elaeagnoidea

(A.Juss.) Benth. 1863

pronounced: ah-GLAY-uh ell-ee-ag-NOY-dee-uh

(Meliaceae — the white cedar family)

synonym — Aglaia roxburghiana

(Wight & Am.) Miq. 1868

pronounced: ah-GLAY-uh roks-berg-ee-AH-nuh

common names: priyangu, droopy leaf

native 4Aglaia was the youngest of the Three Charities or the Three Graces (Euphrosyne and Thalia were the others). These date from the 8th–6th centuries BC in Greek and Roman mythology. Initially they were worshipped as three aniconic stones fallen from heaven (possibly a series of meteorites), but they soon took their more familiar form of three maidens. Initially they were seen as simple guardians of the vernal sweetness and beauty of nature, and only later as the friends and protectors of everything graceful and beautiful. Aglaia had four daughters by Hephaestus: Eucleia (‘good repute’), Eupheme (‘acclaim’), Euthenia (‘prosperity’) and Philophrosyne (‘welcome’). Hephaestus was the Greek equivalent of the Roman god Vulcan. He was the god of technology, blacksmiths, craftsmen, sculptors, metals, fire and volcanoes. He served as the gods’ blacksmith, and was worshipped in the manufacturing and industrial centres of Greece, particularly in Athens.

I have had considerable difficulty with the specific elaeagnoidea. All of the botanical dictionaries I have consulted are silent about it. I think it is one of those nasty botanical words dreamed up by a botanist with a shaky knowledge of the classics. I believe the first part of the word is the Latin elæa [which comes from the Greek ελαια (elaia), the olive], and the rest of the word from the Greek αγνος (agnos), the chaste-tree, and –οιδες (-oides), resembling. In classical times, ‘chaste-tree’ was the name given to a tall tree resembling the willow. So my interpretation of this word is ‘like a tree resembling a willow, with fruit like olives’. Believe it or not, as you will.

In the synonym, roxburghiana was named for William Roxburgh (1751 – 1815), Scottish botanist, who specialized in the flora of India. The common name, priyangu, is the Hindi word for the tree.

This is an evergreen tree found in the dense and moist forests in the Western Ghats of India, and also in some drier parts of that country. It is also found in many of the Pacific Islands, and in the north of both Western Australia and Queensland. It can grow up to 10 m high or more, and, in a fully grown specimen, has a DBH of up to 30 cm. The bark is usually greyish brown (greenish white on immature growth). The leaves are alternate to sub-opposite, 10 – 20 cm long, compound with 3 – 7 leaflets. The leaflets are opposite to sub-opposite, elliptic or oblong-elliptic, 6 – 12 cm long, 2.5 – 5.5 cm wide.

Roundish yellow flowers are borne in panicles, which are shorter than the leaves, in the leaf axils, covered with small scales. There are 5 sepals, rounded, rust-coloured or yellowish scaly on the outside. There are 5 petals, oblong, 1 – 1.5 mm, smooth or yellowish scaly, with a rounded tip. The stamen tube is nearly spherical, giving the flowers a ball-like appearance. The infructescences are axillary, 1 – 3 cm, usually with 1 – 3 fruits.

The fruits are berries, yellowish brown when mature, subglobose, ellipsoid or obovoid, a little over 1 cm in diameter, not depressed at the apex. There is a persistent calyx. They are 2-loculed, with one seed per locule.

The tree, when broken, exudes a white latex, but this is not profuse.
The bright red timber is hard, close-grained, and handsomely marked. It was used in pioneering days for the spokes of wagon wheels, and the indigenous peoples made spear-throwers from it.

The photographs were taken of a specimen growing behind the bus stop over the road from X-Base.


aniconism is the worship of an object that represents a god without being an image of that god

Photographs taken 2009, 2012, at Nelly Bay
Page last updated 1st October 2018