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.

Phaleria clerodendron, scented daphne.

Phaleria clerodendron, scented daphne.

Jerry Coleby-Williams
Director, Seed Savers’ Network
Patron, National Toxics Network
8th April 2019