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Syzygium tierneyanum (F.Muell.) T.G.Hartley & L.M.Perry 1973
pronounced: siz-ZY-ghee-um tee-urn-ee-AH-num
(Myrtaceae – the gum family)
common name: Bamaga Satinash
Syzygium is derived from the Greek συζυγιος (syzygios), joined, referring to the paired leaves; tierneyanum must surely be named for someone called Tierney, but I can find no botanist of that name operating in or before the late 19th century, when von Mueller named the plant. Bamaga is the most northerly township in Australia, situated near the tip of Cape York Peninsula.
This is a medium native rainforest tree with a dense spreading crown and glossy green foliage with flushes of red and bronze new growth. The opposite dark green leaves range from 7–14 cm in length, with widely spaced lateral veins.
In summer the tree bears profuse creamish white flowers with numerous stamens on special lateral branches to 8 cm long, and the enormous quantity of nectar attracts birds and butterflies.
The bunches of pink to red globular to depressed globular berries (usually 2-3 cm in diameter, but sometimes up to 4 cm) are edible, but have rather a sour taste, and are more suited to jam making. The tree grows in North Queensland and New Guinea rainforest, and the specimen photographed is a street tree in Wansfall Street, Picnic Bay, on the southern side of its junction with Granite Street.
Most Lilly-Pillies are handsome trees, and they have become tremendously popular with gardeners throughout Australia. As well as being well suited as street trees, they are excellent as hedging, topiary and ornamental plants. If lower branches are pruned, an excellent shade tree can be produced.
In a study of the pollinators of this tree undertaken in New Guinea, 45 species of nectarivorous animals were recorded. Diurnal visitors included 7 bird, 9 butterfly, 4 moth (including 2 hawkmoth), 2 bee, 2 ant, one wasp, 3 blowfly, one fruit fly, 2 beetle and one weevil species, while nocturnal visitors included one bat and 12 moth (including 3 hawkmoth) species. The floral dimensions are such that only the vertebrate and larger insect species regularly made contact with both anthers and stigmas while foraging. Of these groups, the feral honey bee (Apis mellifera ) was the most common flower visitor. Honeyeaters and hawkmoths appeared to be the most important native pollinators: they were abundant in the study area and visited numerous flowers (from 50 to 250) in quick succession (1–3 seconds per flower) on each foraging bout. Some honeyeaters established territorial claims on portions of the tree and chased away other birds, but the superabundance of nectar meant that a great deal of foraging by different animals was possible at the same time. The observers concluded that most seeds of Syzygium tierneyanum were probably derived from self-pollination.
I have included some details of this study to give an indication of how much painstaking work is necessary by botanists in order to understand our plants, especially our native plants, so many of which grow in fairly inaccessible terrain. Australia has been very fortunate in having so many dedicated plant collectors and botanists, beginning with Joseph Banks and his associates, and including such botanical giants as von Mueller, in the relatively short time since European exploration began.
Photographs taken at Picnic Bay 2009, 2010
Page last updated 22nd February 2017