Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Not a tamarind

In the previous post, I made a blanket statement about 'tamarinds'. Well, I will have to take a step back from that because at least one thing fruiting at the moment is neither a real Fabaceae tamarind nor an ersatz Sapindaceae tamarind. It belongs to Meliaceae, which includes white cedar (Melia azederach) (abundant along the forest edge), red cedar (Toona ciliata) (formerly abundant, now logged out in many areas) and other things that aren't really ced...oh, let's not go down that path again.

This small tree is the brown ripples (Aglaia australiensis). It has a restricted distribution, occurring from the Tully region north to the Mulgrave River. (See the map below for pooled specimen data from Australian herbaria.) Even though it has such a limited range, it is reasonably common around here. The one I've photographed for this post is at the edge of my drive way. [Note added in surprise: This species was only described in 1992.]

Flower buds in early October

At the end of the Dry, the flower buds appeared minty green among the chocolate brown stems. They looked almost good enough to eat.

But I resisted.

Flowers in late October.

Three weeks later, the flowers had opened as far as they ever would. (When I first saw them, I thought they were berries.) Presumably, insects are the chief pollinators of this species.These are not showy flowers.

Fruit in December

Brown ripples is a prolific fruiter with a good flower to fruit ratio. (And you can tell where the tree gets its common name. Yeah, we're big on plain labelling here. It was probably somebody's second choice after tamarind.)

The insects are fond of this species at all stages of its life cycle. If it's not aphids and lerps, it's ants and wasps

I was trying to make this new growth look like a hand reaching out, Kuato style. But it's much too plant-looking for that. (Oh, and let me I apologise for that entirely gratuitous Total Recall reference.)

Almost as soon as they unfurl, the large, glossy, dark green compound leaves are colonised by lichen and moss. The stem seems to be wrapped in velvet. This is a tree that everything loves. I'm not big on horticulture, but I think this would make a nice specimen tree in the right garden — especially in an area where it wouldn't get covered in mini-epiphytes the moment it poked out its cotyledons. I've collected some pods and will see how it goes in a pot. At least I won't have to worry about watering it.

Distribution of Aglaia australiensis
© 2009 Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria Inc.

By the way, I'm glad I invested in the Coopers' encyclopaedic Fruits of the Australian Tropical Rainforest. It costs a small fortune, but it is invaluable to a botanical novice like me. One day I will be familiar enough with the planty stuff to be able to use the key, but until then I am more than happy through the 560-plus pages of illustrations to identify the fruit. You can see Bill Cooper's illustration of the brown ripple (and read more about the plant) here.


Denis Wilson said...

Fruit looks like a Tamarind.
Hairy leaf looks like my Diploglottis.
Why don't plants stick to straight families?
It ain't fair.

Snail said...

I know! Darned plants.

And to underscore my lack of ability with plants, I've just noticed that this species was only described in 1992. That's quite surprising.

Denis Wilson said...

That Tropical Plants site you linked to is amazingly good.
Wish our Southern Plants were half as well studied and presented.
Sydney ("Royal") Bot Gdns PlantNET is rubbish by comparison.

Snail said...

It's not bad at all. Makes a good combination with the Coopers' book.

Tyto Tony said...

I'd resist eating too. White cedar's a killer, isn't it?

Snail said...

I think so, Tony. I wouldn't try them, anyway. The only fruit I've eaten here is Millaa Millaa vine, but I mostly leave that for the birds.