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Rhaphiolepis umbellata (Thunb.) Makino 1902
pronounced: raff-ee-oh-LEP-iss um-bell-AH-tuh
(Rosaceae — the rose family)
pronounced: raff-ee-oh-LEP-iss oh-VAH-tuh, LORE-uss um-bell-AH-tuh
common names: Yedda/Yeddo/Japanese Hawthorn
Rhaphiolepis is from the Greek 'ραφις (rhaphis), a needle, and λεπις (lepis), a scale, referring to the narrow bracteoles; umbellata means ‘having umbels’. The common name ‘hawthorn’ is shared with the related genus Crataegus, the hawthorn with thorny branches that is used for hedges, mainly in Europe.
Rhaphiolepis is a genus of about 15 species of evergreen shrubs and small trees native to warm temperate and sub-tropical eastern and south-eastern Asia, from southern Japan, southern Korea and southern China south to Thailand and Vietnam. Rhaphiolepis umbellata, from Japan and Korea, is the hardiest species, tolerating frosts down to about -15ºC. It occurs naturally in thickets near the seashore in central and south Japan. It grows up to about 2.5 m wide and to the same height. It is slow-growing, but a very tough plant. It is tolerant of salt spray, and of saline and dry soils, and wind-resistant, and so is suitable for planting quite close to the beach. It will not grow well in the shade, but prefers full sun. It is grown fairly extensively on Magnetic Island, especially by the city council gardening department in public spaces.
The Yedda Hawthorn grows in a fairly dense rounded mound, is an attractive plant even while not in flower, excellent as a landscape plant, and is also suitable for hedging. Unless is it hedged, it does not require pruning. In Japan, it is grown commercially for making a brown dye from the bark.
The leaves are alternate, simple, with a short stalk, clustered at the end of the stem, bluntish and leathery. The venation is camptodromous, the margins entire or slightly serrate. The leaves can assume a purple tinge in a cold winter, and new growth is grey-green.
The attractive flowers are star-shaped, 1–2 cm in diameter, grow in clusters and have five pinky white petals, with 15–20 prominent stamens. They are mildly honey-scented.
The fruit is a drupe-like pome, purplish black or bluish, and succulent, usually containing only a single seed. The fruit is edible when cooked, and can be used to make jam. The seeds are edible, and can be ground to make flour: but it is not very palatable, and only used as a famine food, when all else fails! There does not appear to be any medical use made of any parts of the plant.
Photographs taken in Horseshoe Bay & Picnic Bay, 2008, 2009, 2015
Page last updated 2nd February 2017