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Phyllanthus fuernrohrii F.Muell. 1855
pronounced: fill-AN-thuss fune-ROH-ree-eye
(Phyllanthaceae – the phyllanthus family)
common names: Sand Spurge, Leafflower
Phyllanthus is derived from the Greek φυλλον (phyllon), leaf, and ανθος (anthos), a flower; the plants in this genus appear to flower from a leaf-like stem. Fuernrohrii was named for August Emanuel Fürnrohr (1804–1861), German botanist. Trained initially as a pharmacist, he became a teacher of natural history, chemistry and technology, and published a number of books on those subjects. His greatest service to botany, however, was his editorship of the journal Flora oder Botanische Zeitung†. This journal began publication in 1818. Although there had been around the turn of the century a number of short-lived predecessors, Flora was, properly speaking, the world’s first true journal dedicated exclusively to botany. It played an important role in the development of systematic botany in the first half of the 19th century, in Europe and more specifically in the German-speaking countries. It is still in publication today. Fürnrohr was its co-editor from 1830 to 1843, and editor from then to his death in 1861.
The genus is the largest of the family Phyllanthaceae, and estimates of the number of species it contains vary widely, from about 750 to 1,200. It contains a remarkable diversity of growth forms, including annual and perennial herbs, shrubs, climbers, floating aquatics, and succulents; but, despite their variety, almost all Phyllanthus species express a specific type of growth called ‘phyllanthroid branching’, in which the vertical stems bear deciduous, flower-bearing, horizontal or opaque stems.
The leaves on the main (vertical) axes are reduced to scales called cataphylls, while leaves on the other axes develop normally. The genus is found in all tropical and subtropical regions. Leafflower is the common name for all its species. The circumscription of this genus has been a cause of much confusion and disagreement, and it is probable that in the future it will be divided into smaller genera.
Our plant is a many-stemmed sub-shrub growing to 40 cm in height, hairy-tomentose. The leaves are broad-obovate or obovate to oblong, 8–30 mm long, 3–10 mm wide, with an obtuse apex, which is suddenly drawn out into a little point. The petioles are very short.
There are separate male and female flowers: the male flowers 1 or 2 together on peduncles 2–3 mm long, the female flowers on slender peduncles 4–9 mm long, solitary or with male flowers. The male perianth segments are 1–1.5 mm long, pubescent with thin dry margins, the female segments 2 mm long, extending to 3–4 mm in fruit. There are 3 stamens, the filaments free. The ovary is pubescent, with 3 styles, divided to about midway.
The fruit is a pubescent capsule, 3–5 mm in diameter, with seeds about 1.5 mm long, and smooth.
The plant is found from Darwin to Groote Eylandt in the Northern Territory, round the Gulf of Carpentaria and through central and coastal Queensland to Gunnedah in NSW, occurring in a variety of habitats.
All parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested.
† Flora, or Botanical Newspaper
Photographs taken on Hawkings Point 2010-2013, Horseshoe Bay 2014
Page last updated 20th January 2017