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Flacourtia sp. Shiptons Flat L.W. Jessop + GJ.D3200
(Salicaceae – the poplar family)
common name: Cape Plum
Flacourtia was named for Étienne de Flacourt, a 17th Century director of the French East India Company. I think I am correct in identifying this plant as the form Shiptons Flat, named by Laurence Jessop, a botanist at the Queensland Herbarium. There are a number of forms of Flacourtia, many of which are dioecious, but some, including this one, bear bisexual self-fertile flowers. Unless you have a bisexual tree, you will need to grow at least 3 trees to have a fair chance of having both male and female plants.
This is a small rainforest tree from the forests of Cape York Peninsula, found mostly from Thursday Island south to the Bloomfield River. Its altitudinal range is from near sea level to about 200 m. It tends to grow in drier rainforest that is subject to a pronounced dry season. It is a well-shaped bushy tree that generally grows to a height of 3-4 m, with a spread of 2-3 m, and so is well-suited to home gardens. The flower photographs were taken of a plant in a garden in Arcadia, but the new growth leaves, and ripe fruit, were taken in Brisbane.
The plant has attractive glossy foliage, whose vivid bronze-red new growth is visible on the plant for much of the year. The leaf blades are about 8-11 cm long by 3-5 cm wide; the midrib is more-or-less flush with the upper surface. The lateral veins are curved, but do not form loops inside the blade margin. The stipules are small and inconspicuous.
The cream flowers are small and fluffy, borne during spring and summer in clusters on the branchlets. The perianth is about 0.5 mm long. The inflorescences are much shorter than the leaves, and usually shorter than the petioles.
The fruits are dark red to black, about the size of a cherry, and very attractive to birds. They are depressed globular in shape, about 16 by 10-12 mm in diameter. The calyx is persistent at the base, and style remnants persist at the apex. There are 4-6 seeds per fruit, the testa surface rugose. Though somewhat tart in flavour, they are edible by humans when completely ripe, and make good jam. The texture of the fruit is juicy, hydrating and crisp, like the flesh of a cucumber or a firm grape.
Its dense habit makes it suitable for screen and wind breaks. It will grow either in medium sun or in semi-shade. It also makes a good specimen plant in a courtyard, or in pots on patios.
This is the host plant for the Australian Rustic butterfly Cupha proscope. The larvae of the moth Clostera rubida also feed on the members of this genus, and it is thought that those of the moth Oeonistis altica may also do so.
It is quite hardy, and grows well in gardens across northern Australia, and as far south as about Sydney.
There are quite a few species of Flacourtia found in other parts of the world. They are especially loved in the Caribbean, where the fruits are used both in drinks and dishes. They are seldom grown commercially, as their fruits are not as sweet and juicy like many other types of plum.
Flacourtia fruits are used medicinally in some parts, particularly in India, where the rural poor grind the seeds with turmeric. The concoction is administered to women post child delivery. When rubbed all over the body, the mixture is believed to relieve rheumatic pain. In traditional systems of medicine, Flacourtia acts as an appetite stimulant, diuretic and digestive, combats enlarged spleen, and treats jaundice.
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.
Photographed in Brisbane, 2014 & Arcadia 2018
Page last updated 7th March 2018