Macaranga tanarius



Macaranga tanarius

(L.) Müll.Arg. 1866

pronounced: mak-ah-ANG-uh tan-AH-ree-uss

(Euphorbiaceae — the spurge family)


common names: macaranga, nasturtium tree

native 4Macaranga is vernacular name of this plant in the Philippines. I have not been able to discover with any certainty the derivation of tanarius. My only suggestion is that it may perhaps be for the Tanara area, on the island of Java, Indonesia.

A very fast-growing pioneer species, Macaranga tanarius is often common in secondary forests, especially in logging areas. It is also found in thickets and beach vegetation. It is native to Australia and New Guinea, much of south-east Asia, Indonesia, China, Japan and the Philippines. This plant is one of those collected in 1770 by Banks and Solander during the voyage of the Endeavour. It was collected at the Endeavour River (Cooktown).

This tree is dioecious and wind-pollinated, and flowers and fruits fairly regularly. It will grow up to 20 m tall, but is usually much shorter. The branches are rather thick, glaucous, and pubescent when young. The leaves are alternate, the blade round, with the stem attached near the centre of the lower surface rather than the margin (as a nasturtium leaf, for example, hence one of the common names), 8 – 30 by 5 – 25 cm in size, rounded at the base, acuminate at the apex, entire, sometimes toothed or slightly lobed, with distinct veins, hairy when young. The petioles are 6 – 25 cm long, with large stipules at the base.

The flowers are borne in axillary, paniculate inflorescences, composed of bracts enclosing clusters of flowers. The male flowers are minute, many in a cluster with 3 – 10 stamens, the female flowers few in a cluster, with a subovoid, glandular, 2-celled ovary and 2 large stigmas.

The fruit is a 2-segmented capsule, about 1 cm in diameter, with long soft prickles, yellowish, and glandular outside. The seeds are globose, about 5 mm in diameter, and wrinkled. When in fruit, the tree attracts birds.

In Sumatra, the fruits of this plant are added to palm juice when it is boiled down into crystals, and this improves the quality of the sugar produced.

The wood of the tree makes good firewood, and also yields a high-quality pulp used to produce particleboard. The timber is soft and light, not particularly durable or resistant to termite attack, but it is fairly tough. The grain is straight or only shallowly interlocked, with a moderately fine and even texture. Pepper-growers in southern Sumatra use it to make temporary ladders to harvest their crop. In Indonesia and the Philippines, the gum tapped from the bark is used as a glue, particularly for joining the parts of musical instruments. The bark contains tannin, and this is used for strengthening fishing nets: nets dipped in a decoction of the bark will withstand the effects of sea water for a considerable time. In the Philippines, the bark and leaves are widely used in the preparation of a fermented drink, basi, made from sugarcane.

The tree is easily propagated from fresh seed, and it makes a good foliage plant for containers, general landscaping, and coastal gardens. There is a good deal of it on Magnetic Island, and it is well on the way to becoming an invasive weed.

This is a food plant for the caterpillars of several Lepidoptera, including:

      • the moth Atasthalistis ochreoviridella; and
      • the Blue Moonbeam butterfly Philiris nitens.


Photographs taken on the banks of Gustav Creek, Nelly Bay, 2010-2014
Page last updated 31st January 2019