Maytenus disperma

orange boxwood


Maytenus disperma

(F.Muell.) Loes. 1942

pronounced: may-TEN-niss dy-SPUR-muh

(Celastraceae — the bittersweet family)


common names: orange boxwood, orange bark

native 4Maytenus is the Latinized form of the Chilean vernacular name for the genus, and disperma is from the Greek δις (dis), twice, and σπερμα (sperma), a seed, referring to the two seeds in each cell.

The plant was originally named Celastrus dispermus by von Mueller in 1859, when he found the type species in the Araucaria Forests, near Moreton Bay. It is endemic to Australia, occurring in north-east Queensland and southwards to near Lismore in north-eastern NSW. It occurs in drier rainforest and monsoon forest at an altitudinal range of up to about 1000 m.

This small tree grows to about 8 m, with a dense rounded crown, the bark grey and highly decorative with horizontal markings. A thin orange layer isusually visible if the bark is scraped with a knife. There are numerous white or pale-coloured lenticels visible on the older twigs. The trunk is usually flanged near the base.

The entire, simple leaves are obovate, elliptic-lanceolate or elliptic, about 3 – 8 by 1 – 4 cm, sometimes with a blunt point, the base attenuate, the midrib raised on the upper surface; the petiole, 3 – 12 mm long, is channelled on the upper surface, but usually with a ridge down the middle.

The flowers, borne in axillary racemes 1 – 3 cm long, are white, and appear to be bisexual, but sometimes the anthers, though they look well-developed, are non-functional. The flowers are 6 – 7 mm across; the 4 sepals are about 1 mm long. The 4 petals are oblong, about 2 – 2.5 mm long. There are 4 stamens, the anther filaments about 1 mm long, or a little more. There are 2 ovules per locule.

The bivalve fruits are bright yellow capsules, more-or-less obovoid, compressed, about 6 – 10 mm long. They split open to reveal the reddish brown seeds. There is a thick fleshy yellow aril at the base of each seed.
The timber of this tree is pale yellow, of medium weight, firm, prettily marked and close-grained. It is suitable for turning, carving and inlay work. It turns and machines very well even when green (though the turned articles may warp a little as they dry out). It also sands well, but is rather thirsty when being stained or varnished.

Several botanical websites state that the seeds of this tree are black.


Photographs taken in the Gustav Creek vine forest, The Forts walk, Nelly Bay & Arcadia, 2013-2015
Page last updated 2nd February 2019