Diospyros vera

Queensland ebony


Diospyros vera

(Lour.) A.Chev. 1919

pronounced: dy-oh-SPY-ross VEE-rum

(Ebenaceae — the ebony family)

synonym — Diospyros geminata

(R.Br.) F.Muell. 1867

pronounced: dy-oh-SPY-ross jem-in-AH-tuh

synonym — Diospyros ferrea var. geminata

(R.Br.) Bakh. 1937

pronounced: dy-oh-SPY-ross FER-ee-uh variety jem-in-AH-tuh

common names: Queensland ebony, native ebony

native 4Diospyros is from two Greek words, Διος (Dios), of Zeus, and πυρος (pyros), wheat – God’s wheat; but the word διοσπυρος (diospyros) was also a name used by the ancient Greeks for the Lithospermum genus of plants, gromwell, and in particular for the medicinal herb, Lithospermum officinale. As all of the members of our Diospyros genus are trees, it is difficult to see the connection with either. Vera is from the Latin verus, true. Geminata is also Latin, geminatus, like twins, referring to the occasional paired fruits.

The genus contains something like 450–500 species of deciduous and evergreen trees, which are commonly known as ebony or persimmon trees. Their fruits are rich in tannins, and so avoided by most herbivores when unripe; when ripe they are eagerly eaten by many animals. The genus includes several plants of commercial importance, either for their edible fruit (persimmons) or for their timber (ebony).

This Australian native is a small tree in dry rainforest and sub-tropical rainforest. Not a well-known tree, it is an important species in threatened vine thickets. On Magnetic Island, I know of some in the thickets at Horseshoe Bay, there is one growing by the bus stop at Geoffrey Bay (on the shore side), and one by the service road up to the water tank in Picnic Bay. The tree is found in coastal districts from Cairns south to Brisbane, but more common in the northern end of its range. If you see this tree it is usually a good indication that you are looking at a patch of remnant dry rainforest, because it is not commonly planted and is very slow-growing. It usually means that the area has not been catastrophically cleared. I know that this does not explain the tree at the bus stop! We can probably thank the birds for that!

The trunk is a mottled grey colour. The leaf blades are leathery to stiff, and slightly glossy, about 6–10 cm by 2–5 cm; faint lateral veins form rather irregular loops inside the blade margins. There are numerous small oil dots visible with a lens; the petioles are pink or reddish. As with all of the ebony species, they have yellow-olive-green undersides, and both surfaces tend to look waxy.

The plant is dioecious. Female flowers are shown in the illustrations. The male flowers are about 3–5 mm long, have 9 stamens, 6 in the outer whorl and 3 in the inner.

The fleshy fruit, a little less than a centimetre in diameter, sits in a cup-shaped calyx. It ripens to a bright red, and is then rapidly eaten by birds.

The caterpillars of Addaea polyphoralis and Blenina donans use this as a food plant.

Although this isn’t one of the species traditionally used for furniture-making, it is a true ebony (Diospyros), and its timber has most of the same properties. As it is only a small tree, the blackish heartwood is available only in small quantities, but this is in fact true of all the ebonies these days, with most of the traditionally used species threatened by unsustainable harvesting.

Ebony is a dense and heavy wood. Because of its almost black colour, its durability, hardness, and its ability to take a high polish, it is used for making a variety of items including bagpipes, the tuning pegs, fingerboards, tailpieces and chinrests for violins and other stringed instruments, black chessmen, the black keys on pianos and harpsichords, crucifixes, and pistol grips. It is a very difficult wood to carve because of its hardness.

This is an attractive tree, and would be a good addition to a tropical garden. Propagate by seed. It is rather slow-growing, particularly while young. It prefers a well-drained position, sunny to semi-shade. Plant several, as you will need both a male and a female tree if you want fruit.


Photographs taken by the West Point road 2011, 2012
Page last updated 13th December 2018