Sphaeromorphaea australis

spreading nut-heads


Epaltes australis

Less. 1830

pronounced: ee-PAL-tez oss-TRAH-liss


(Asteraceae — the daisy family)

synonym —Sphaeromorphaea australis

(Less.) Kitam. 1936

pronounced: sfay-roh-mor-FEE-uh oss-TRAH-liss

common name: spreading nut-heads

native 4I have not been able to trace the derivation of Epaltes. In the synonym, Sphaeromorphaea is derived from the Greek σφαιροω (sphairoö), to make spherical, and μορφη (morphé), shape; australis is Latin for ‘south’.

This plant was collected by Banks and Solander at the Endeavour River in 1770.

This is an aromatic herb that grows up to about 25 cm in height. Its stems are prostrate to ascending, much branched, and the branches are woody near the base, flexuous, and straggly. The leaves are oblong-oblanceolate in shape, up to about 6 cm by 1.5 cm in size, the apex obtuse or rounded; the base narrows towards the petiole, and the leaf margins are irregularly dentate, or lyrate. The leaves are sparsely pilose on both surfaces.

The flowerheads, purplish to brown, are mostly axillary and solitary, globose, 4 – 6 mm in diameter, shortly pedunculate. The involucre has one or two series of bracts, the outer bracts shorter, ovate and acute, the inner ones oblong, obtuse and scarious. The outer florets are very numerous, with fewer inner florets.

The fruits are achenes, only about 1 mm long, and glandular, with the pappus a small scarious rim.

The plant usually grows in temporarily flooded or slightly boggy areas, and is widespread, but relatively rare, in all the mainland states. It is found in a few places on Magnetic Island: there was a colony of the plants on the reclaimed land within the Nelly Bay harbour; but these disappeared at the last replanting of vegetation there. The plants photographed were found growing near the pumping station at the end of the bitumen on the West Point Road, and others have been observed growing in the drain behind Corica Street in Horseshoe Bay.

Spreading Nut-heads is also found across India and southern China, and in Taiwan as well. There, it is an occasional weed of the rice paddies, roadsides, boggy depressions, along ditches, and near the sea. There is another very similar plant found in Taiwan, Grangea maderaspatana, and the two were often mis-identified. In the first edition of Flora of Taiwan, plates of the two species were switched.

I was fascinated to discover that in Hong Kong this plant has the common name of ‘goose-no-eat’.

Photographs taken near Bolger Bay 2016
Page last updated 7th April 2019