Cryptocarya hypospodia

northern laurel foliage


Cryptocarya hypospodia

F.Muell. 1856

pronounced: krip-toh-KAIR-yuh high-poh-SPOW-dee-uh

(Lauraceae — the laurel family)


common names: northern laurel, rib-fruited pepperberry

native 4Cryptocarya is from the Greek κρυπτω (krypto), to hide, and καρυον (karyon), a nut – the seed being hidden in the perianth tube; hypospodia is from 'υπο (hypo), under, and σποδια (spodia) ashes, a heap of ashes.

This is a tree growing to 30 m in Australia, but up to 40 m in New Guinea, with the straight cylindrical bole up to 140 cm in diameter, the stem usually buttressed. It occurs in the Northern Territory (where it is listed as endangered), Cape York Peninsula, and north-eastern Queensland, as well as in New Guinea. This species is very closely related to Cryptocarya obovata, but they tend to occupy different ecological niches. Cryptocarya hypospodia occurs in low elevation gallery forests, while C. obovata occurs in mountain rainforests. There is a stand of Cryptocarya hypospodia on Magnetic Island, in Alma Bay.

The bark is usually nondescript, and emitting an odour, often described as peppery. The twigs are fluted or terete, and pubescent, clothed in short, tortuous, brown, erect and appressed hairs. The leaves grow on a petiole 7 - 17 mm long; the lamina is elliptic to ovate, 6.5 - 24.5 cm long by 2.5 - 13.5 wide. They are penninerved, green or more-or-less glaucous below, and more-or-less pubescent, being clothed in short, straight and tortuous, white or pale brown appressed hairs when young, but eventually becoming almost glabrous. The tepals are dimorphic, with the outer ones oblong in shape, the inner ones more spatulate. Oil dots are just visible on the leaves, with a lens.

The inflorescence is paniculate, usually exceeding the leaves. The flowers are pale brown and creamy green, and unpleasantly perfumed. The tepals are about 1.5 - 1.9 mm long, pubescent on the outer surface. The ovary is usually glabrous, sometimes pubescent towards the apex, with the style glabrous or sparsely hairy. The tree flowers November to May.

The fruit is globular, 13 - 18 mm long, 12 - 17 mm wide, black when ripe. The tree fruits September to December. The fruits are an important source of food for fruit-eating birds, especially pigeons and cassowaries. It is the preferred food plant of the Purple Crowned Fruit Dove.

This is a food plant for the larval stages of the Blue Triangle, Macleay’s Swallowtail, Helenita Blue and Common Oakblue butterflies.

The species produces millable logs, and is a useful general purpose timber. Many Cryptocarya species that grow large enough are utilized for their timber, very often with several species lumped together indiscriminately. The heartwood of trees from this genus is pinkish brown, greyish brown, reddish brown or chocolate brown. It is not clearly differentiated from the somewhat lighter-coloured sapwood. The texture is fine to medium, the grain usually straight; the lustre is low; and sometimes there is an aromatic odour when the timber is freshly cut. Some species are reported to be easy to season, while others have a tendency to warp and split. The wood is generally said to be quite easy to work by hand and machine tools.

The sapwood is prone to powder-post beetle attack. The wood is often attractive, and can be used for cabinet work, flooring, veneers, panelling. It is often used for joinery.

Especially in the Northern Territory, feral pigs are a potential threat to this species.


Photographed in Alma Bay 2016
Page last updated 3rd December 2018