Breathe Magic Into Your Rainforest Garden

Phaleria clerodendron, scented daphne.
Phaleria clerodendron, scented daphne.

There is one rainforest plant from northern Australia every coastal garden should grow: Phaleria clerodendron, the scented daphne. This compact tree can be grown in a coastal garden at least as far south as Sydney and it will fill a garden with fragrant flowers up to three times as year. Endemic to far northern Queensland and the NT, unless Australians discover and grow this magical plant, who else will?


Scented daphne (Phaleria clerodendron) always featured as Plant of the Week at Sydney Botanic Gardens during my time working there (1992-2003). Its exquisite but not overpowering fragrance alerts garden visitors to seek out the source. This glossy-leaved evergreen is endemic to Australia. It is a member of the Daphne family (Thymeleaceae) so you get an idea of the kind of fragrance it produces. Importantly, Phaleria clerodendron can be grown outdoors in sheltered coastal gardens at least as far south as Sydney.
Phaleria clerodendron, scented daphne.
Phaleria clerodendron, scented daphne.

In the wild, Phaleria grows a metre a year under a tree canopy. If you want to grow one, find a spot with dappled shade which is either moist or can be watered during drought. You can look forward to Phaleria flowering three times a year, say gardeners Barb and Rex Wickes who planted the specimen illustrated. Their tree has grown to around 8 metre tall and 6 metres wide, and it was a major drawcard at their garden’s final open day last weekend.

You can buy Phaleria clerodendron from Burringbar Rainforest Nursery in NSW. This is one of Australia’s leading sources of native plants.
Phaleria clerodendron, scented daphne.
Phaleria clerodendron, scented daphne.

Phaleria, like jackfruit, coolamon and jaboticaba, produces flowers directly out of the trunk and branches. Known as cauliflory, this is a survival stragegy which enables small animals which cannot fly to pollinate the flowers, feed on the fruit and disperse the seed.

Phaleria clerodendron, scented daphne.
Phaleria clerodendron, scented daphne.

The fruit only fully ripen bright red once they hit the ground. Seed does not store well and should be sown fresh. In the wild, they attract seed vectors such as the cassowary, those great rainforest gardeners of the wet tropics. This species is one which I will be advocating gardeners make more use of the Mission Beach Community Cassowary Festival 2019.
Here is a Cassowary food plants list for further reading…and growing

Fruit of Phaleria clerodendron, scented daphne.


Phaleria clerodendron, scented daphne.
Phaleria clerodendron, scented daphne.
Jerry Coleby-Williams
Director, Seed Savers’ Network
Patron, National Toxics Network
8th April 2019

10 Comments Add yours

  1. Rowena Cavanagh says:

    What a gorgeous thing, I am trialling Phalaria disperma after collecting in sand by the sea on Leleuvia Island, Fiji. It will be interesting to see if the seedlings have survived when I return given their extraordinary growing conditions.

    1. Without an Import Permit prior to entry into Australia you will be breaking Quarantine Law and risk importing diseases into Australia. DON’T DO IT!

  2. Dave Bright says:

    Hi Jerry,
    What a stunning plant! I wonder if it will grow in Perth – assuming I could source some seed! I’m trying to establish a rainforest courtyard garden – I would imagine the flowers of Scented Daphne would bring light into the shade!

  3. Simply read the post.

  4. Kate Poole says:

    I had one of these in Howard Springs NT. Loved it but had no idea what it was, bought it at an open house inspection! Good to find out.

  5. Hello Jerry 🙂 Thank you for introducing us to that beautiful plant. A friend has Phaleria chermsideana growing in her rainforest garden just 10 mins from my place, which now also has enough shade to introduce more rainforest plants. I’ve only viewed her Phaleria from her deck, so I’ve only seen the top of a youngish plant, and smelt the flowers, from above, so I didn’t see main branches or the trunk at all. It was beautiful, anyway, so much so that I collected pieces for cuttings, but they didn’t take, sadly. Do all species of Phaleria share the cauliflorous habit? I’m just wondering if I can keep my species selection more local 🙂 Thank you. 🙂

    1. Phaleria is propagated by seed. Look to species that live in hotter climate with unseasonal rainfall, not ‘local species’ which is now redundant. Read:

  6. Janet Stevenson says:

    Hi Jerry, we have this beautiful tree in our garden at Capalaba, it is thriving and is very large. The flowers smell like a pina-colada – it is incredible, although the flowers do not last a long time at all. Thanks for the terrific article.

  7. Kristine Dawson says:

    Hi Jerry, I have had this tree/shrub for a long time – 25year+. It never ceases to amaze with its prolific flowers that are all thru the warm months. I have found my plants have main flowering Nov and Mar and several times in between. Last flowers in May. The perfume permeates the yard and is lovely.

  8. Bob Whiteman says:

    Hi Jerry
    Here in Brisbane we’ve had over 500mm through March and April 2021 so all my rainforest plants including Phaleria clerodendrum and P. chermsideana are bursting into flower. Add the burgeoning insect population after the rains hopefully means lots of fruit developing. Southern Qld is getting drier due to climate change so lovely periods of saturating rainfall – no matter how short or infrequent – are appreciated. Lots of bioluminescent fungi inside my log pile in the back yard. Magic happens.

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