Turnera subulata

white alder


Turnera subulata

Sm. 1817

pronounced: TER-ner-uh sub-yoo-LAH-tuh

(Passifloraceae — the passionfruit family)

formerly placed in Turneraceae


common names: white alter, dark-eyed turnera

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.

There are two species of Turnera cultivated on Magnetic Island, this and Turnera ulnifolia. In this species, subulata is derived from the Latin subula, an awl: awl-shaped.

This is a clumping perennial herb, often woody at the base, 30 – 80 cm high, frequently with a very strong taproot, and with prostrate stems. It is a native of the West Indies, Florida, Brazil and Central America, and has also become naturalized on the Indian subcontinent.

The stems are cylindrical, leafy over a considerable part of their length, and densely hairy. The leaves are bright green in colour, with dentate-serrate margins; they are ovate-elliptic or oblong-ovate in shape. The pretty flowers, 4–5 cm in diameter, are white to cream with a yellow halo around black centres, and borne in the higher leaf-axils. The plant is a persistent flowerer, with the flowers opening around 8:00 am, and closing by 11:00 am to noon. It is a very popular plant in Magnetic Island gardens, used as an edging plant, particularly in Picnic Bay. It prefers full sun, and well-drained soil. Bees and butterflies love it, and while the flowers are open are usually present in large numbers.

Some new cultivars are available whose flowers remain open longer. If that is what you want, make sure to visit the nursery in the afternoon to make sure the flowers are still open.

Propagation is by stem cuttings, which strike easily.


A Little Book about Botanical Matters
until then, they had been written in Latin, for the use of physicians


Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2007
Page last updated 25th April 2019