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Timonius timon (Spreng.) Merr. 1937
pronounced: ty-MOH-nee-uss TY-mon
(Rubiaceae – the gardenia family)
synonym: Timonius rumphii DC. 1830
pronounced: ty-MOH-nee-uss RUM-fee-eye
common name: Timon Tree, Tim Tim
Timon is the name of the plant in Amboina (Ambon), on account of its black bark. In the synonym, rumphii was named for Georg Everhard Rumpf (Latinized to Rumphius), (1628–1702), German-born Dutch naturalist. Although he is now almost forgotten, Rumpf was one of the great tropical naturalists of the 17th century – a century and a half before Darwin. He joined the military branch of the Dutch East India Company, was sent to Ambon in 1653, and remained there for the rest of his life. He took up the study of the island’s fauna and flora as a hobby, and spent the next 30 years writing a 12-volume book on the region’s natural history. He was, however, disaster-prone. In 1670, aged only 42, he became blind, probably through glaucoma. He worked on doggedly through scribes and various artists to produce marvellously detailed manuscripts. This was possible because he had a prodigious visual memory and a gift for giving striking descriptions. His greatest work was Herbarium Amboinense†, consisting of 1,661 folio pages and 695 plates. Disaster struck again in 1674, when his wife and one of his daughters were killed in an earthquake. Then, in 1686, he sent his vast manuscript to Holland to be printed. The Dutch vessel carrying it was attacked by the French and sunk, and the manuscript went to the bottom. With the aid of his surviving daughters, Rumphius set to work to rewrite it. Yet another disaster – a fire that swept the Dutch quarters in 1687 destroyed all the drawings he had made before he went blind. He persevered, and finally, some time in the 1690s, the manuscripts of all 12 volumes reached the Directors of the Dutch East India Company. They were reluctant to fund the publication, and a frustrated Rumphius died in 1702, not knowing whether his life’s work would ever be published. It took until 1741 for that to happen, and the book was hailed as one of the most remarkable books of its time, despite the fact that Linnaeus had in the meantime gained the credit for the first descriptions of many of the plants it contained. The book described over 1,700 plants, and illustrated 1,060 of them. Rumphius also wrote The Ambonese Curiosity Cabinet, describing shellfish, rocks, minerals and fossils.
The Timon tree is a shrub or small tree that can grow to about 8 m. It is native to northern Australia, New Guinea, and a few of the nearby islands, including Timor and the Solomon Islands. In Australia it is found on the coastal strip reaching from the Kimberleys in Western Australia right across the north of the continent and down the Queensland coast as far south as about Brisbane. The opposite leaves are quite large, up to about 15 cm by 5 cm, obovate to elliptic, with a blunt tip. The little white 5-petaled flowers are borne on cymes at the ends of the branchlets. Small fruits are produced, containing many seeds. These are thought to be spread by fruit bats.
Joseph Banks and his party saw Timonius timon near the Endeavour River.
The larvae of the Hercules Moth, Coscinocera hercules, with a wing-span of about 27 cm the largest Australian moth, use this tree as one of their food sources, as do also the larvae of the Emperor Moth Syntherata janetta.
The aboriginal peoples used a decoction of the wood of the tree for sore eyes, and a decoction of the inner bark for fevers and colds.
† Plants of Ambonia
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.
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2011, West Point road 2014
Page last updated 9th March 2018