Tabernaemontana orientalis

iodine bush


Tabernaemontana orientalis

R.Br. 1810

pronounced: tab-er-nay-MON-tah-nuh or-ee-en-TAH-liss

(Apocynaceae — the oleander family)

common names: iodine bush, Australian ibogaine bush

native 4Tabernaemontana is an amalgam of two Latin words, roughly translated as ‘mountain cottage’. I have read that this is the result of putting the name of Bergzabern (a German wine town) into Latin, which would translate the species name as ‘Bergzabern of the East’; but don’t ask me why!

This is a fairly widespread and possibly very variable shrub, found in northern Australia, PNG, Melanesia and Indonesia. The plant was collected by Banks and Solander at the Endeavour River and Lookout Point in 1770.
Habitats include monsoon forest thickets, stabilized sand dunes or sandstone country by streams and vine thickets on rock outcrops. It appears as a regeneration species after logging operations, and along the edges of rainforest and other areas where it can receive full sun. It is found all over Magnetic Island. The latex was reportedly used by the Aborigines to cure sores and ulcers, hence the name Iodine Bush. In colonial times it found use as a quinine substitute to treat malaria, and was sometimes called ‘bitter bark’. There has been much confusion about the species of this genus, due to variations in different habitats, but it is now reckoned that there are only two species in Queensland, this one and Tabernaemontana pandacaqui.

This is an open shrub to small tree, from 1 m high in exposed coastal situations to 15 m in sheltered moist sites. The stem is erect and branching. Specimens growing in too-bright light tend to have yellow foliage, while as an understorey plant in the forest it has darker green leaves.

The simple leaves are elliptic to obovate, opposite, anything up to about 14 cm long by 7 cm wide, tapering to the base, with distinct venation.

The fragrant jasmine-like white flowers have 5 twisted petals fusing to form a tube just over 1 cm long, are regularly symmetrical, and a little more than 1 cm in diameter.

The fruits are in pairs, ovoid, oblique, dry and orange-coloured when ripe. They split along one side to reveal many seeds with red succulent arils.
Ibogaine is a naturally occurring compound found in a number of plants, principally in another member of the Oleander family, Tabernanthe iboga.

Preparations containing ibogaine are used for medicinal and ritual purposes within the African spiritual traditions of the Bwiti, who claim to have learned them from the Pygmies. It the 1960s, ibogaine was accidentally discovered to cause interruption of withdrawal symptoms in those trying to escape from heroin addiction, and since that time it has been the subject of scientific investigation into its abilities to interrupt addictions to heroin, cocaine and alcohol; but there is some controversy due to its hallucinogenic properties. Because of this, its use has been banned in the USA and a few other countries. Canada and Mexico both allow ibogaine treatment clinics to operate, and in other countries its use has grown in the form of a large world-wide medical subculture. In Australia, the importing of ibogaine is prohibited, as is the importing of any material containing even the smallest amounts of it. However, there are no restrictions on possessing material, seeds or plants containing it; but it may not be sold or possessed as a therapeutic product except by prescription.


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 2008-2011
Page last updated 17th April 2019