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Trema tomentosa var. viridis (Planch.) Hewson 1989
pronounced: TREE-muh toh-men-TOH-suh variety VEER-id-iss
(Cannabaceae – the hemp family)
synonym: Trema aspera var. viridis (Planch.) Benth. 1873
pronounced: TREE-muh ASS-per-uh variety VEER-id-iss
common name: Poison Peach
Trema is from the Greek τρημα (tréma), a hole, aperture or perforation, and refers to the pitted stone in the fruit. Tomentosa is from the Latin tomentum, a stuffing for cushions, of wool, hair, feather, straw, etc.; botanically, tomentose means ‘covered with fine, matted hairs.’ Viridis is Latin for ‘green’, and, in the synonym, aspera is from the Latin asper, rough, harsh.
This is a forest plant, occurring in Australia from Twofold Bay (37ºS) in NSW to far northern Queensland, and then in New Guinea and Indonesia. It was previously recorded near Mallacoota, but is now presumed extinct in Victoria. The plant is well-regarded by rainforest regenerators for quick growth, shelter and shade, as a nursery species, and as a bird-attracting plant. Its habitat is rainforest regrowth, in disturbed open areas of rainforest, by forest roads, and in open forest country.
It grows as a shrub or small tree, evergreen, up to a height of 8 m and a stem diameter of 15 cm. The bark is smooth and grey, dotted with lenticels arranged in vertical and horizontal patterns. The grey or fawn-coloured branchlets also feature these lenticels. The young shoots, finer branchlets and the undersides of the leaves are sometimes sparsely hairy. The alternate leaves are ovate to lanceolate with a long pointed tip, mostly 2–8 cm long, 1–3 cm wide, light green, rough to the touch with a finely-toothed edge, strongly 3-veined from the base, and the main veins usually hairy below. The petioles are 5–10 mm long. The leaves resemble those of the invasive weed Lantana camara.
The flowers are small and greenish in colour, situated in the forks of the leaves, and are borne on short-branched inflorescences, usually about 2 cm long. They appear all the year round, though mostly between December and March. The flowers develop into a small, shiny, black, round, fleshy drupe, 2-6 mm in diameter, with a single black seed. The fruit matures between February and August, and is eaten by a variety of birds, including the Brown Cuckoo-dove, the Australasian Figbird, Lewin’s Honeyeater and the Olive-backed Oriole.
A certain amount of timber is harvested locally from this tree, but due to the small size of the tree it is not obtainable in large dimensions. It seasons fairly rapidly but can suffer severe cupping, bowing, twisting and staining; so extreme care is needed in drying it. The wood is soft, slightly coarse, but even, often with straight grain. It is moderately easy to saw and work, and easy to plane, but the surface produced is rough.
The ‘poison’ in the common name comes from the suspicion that the plant can poison horses and cows. It appears that the plant may, on occasions, contain small quantities of a glucoside yielding prussic acid.
Propagation is not difficult from fresh seed or cuttings.
I was interested to read a report that plants of this species, growing between rows of tea in the Pangia district of New Guinea, showed abundant nodulation on their roots, similar to the nodules found on many tropical legumes.
Photographs taken in Nelly Bay & Picnic Bay 2010, 2013
Page last updated 8th March 2018