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Turnera ulmifolia L. 1753
pronounced: TER-ner-uh ull-mih-FOH-lee-uh
(Passifloraceae – the passionfruit family. Formerly placed in Turneraceae)
common names: Yellow Alder, Ramgoat Dashalong
Turnera was named for William Turner (c. 1508–1568) an ornithologist and botanist, often referred to as the ‘Father of English Botany’. While an undergraduate and later a fellow at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, he published several works, including Libellus de re herbaria† in 1538. He spent much of his leisure in the careful study of plants which he sought for in their native habitat, and described with an accuracy hitherto unknown in England. He had nothing but contempt for earlier herbals which he described as “full of unlearned cacographies and falselye naminge of herbes”. In 1551, he published the first of three parts of his famous Herbal, on which his botanical fame rests. A new herball, wherin are conteyned the names of herbes… is the first part of Turner's great work; the second was published in 1562 and the third in 1568. These volumes gave the first clear, systematic survey of English plants, and with their admirable woodcuts and detailed observations based on Turner's own field studies put the herbal on an altogether higher footing than any earlier works. At the same time, however, Turner included an account of their ‘uses and vertues’, and in his preface admits that some will accuse him of divulging to the general public what should have been reserved for a professional audience. For the first time, a herbal was available in England in the vernacular‡, from which people could identify the main English plants without difficulty.
Ulmus is Latin for the elm tree, so ulmifolia means ‘having leaves resembling those of the elm genus’.
This is a perennial, dense, compact, drought-resistant shrub that reaches about 60 cm in height, native to the West Indies and Mexico. The dark green to grey-green leaves, clustered towards the ends of the branches, are alternate and spiral, simple with a pair of glands at the base of the blade, petiolate. The blade is 7–12 cm long, and 1.5–3 cm wide, elliptic or ovate to lanceolate, and prominently veined. The yellow flower has a corolla 2.5–3.5 cm long, 5 petals, all petals free. There are 5 stamens, and the flowers last only for a day. The fruit is a dehiscent, broadly ovoid, silky capsule up to 1 cm long and about half as wide as it is long. It is said that the seeds are transported by ants.
The yellow alder may be propagated by seed, cuttings or division. It likes some shade, and does best if there is some protection from the afternoon sun. The leaves, when crushed, have a pungent odour that some people find offensive.
These plants make an attractive edging to a garden, and are beginning to appear in quite a few Magnetic Island gardens. They do spread very efficiently, and I suspect that this plant has the ability to become an invasive species.
The plant is not an alder, of course, but there is a similarity in the leaves. True alders produce their flowers in catkins. I could not resist including the ‘common’ name of Ramgoat Dashalong. This is what it is called by the natives of Jamaica. I leave it to the reader’s imagination as to why, but I’ll give you a hint – it is marketed by herbalists as an alternative to Viagra.
† A Little Book about Botanical Matters
‡ until then, they had been written in Latin, for the use of physicians
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 2009, Picnic Bay
Page last updated 6th March 2017