Sersalisia sericea  (Aiton) R.Br. 1810

pronounced: sur-sal-IZ-ee-uh sir-ee-KEE-uh

(Sapotaceae – the sapote family)

synonym: Pouteria sericea  (Aiton) Baehni 1942

pronounced: po-TER-ee-uh sir-ee-KEE-uh

common names:  Wild Prune, Mongo

Sersalisia sersalisia sericeasersalisia sericea flowerswas named by Robert Brown for J.B. Seralisia, a Neapolitan priest and zoologist. Brown (1773–1858) was a Scottish botanist who accompanied Matthew Flinders on his circumnavigation of Australia, and named many Australian native plants. Sericea is from the Latin sericeus, silky. Before joining Flinders in the Investigator, Brown had studied the plants in Sir Joseph Banks’s collections, and the voyage undoubtedly helped him to develop the powers of acute observation and intense application which gained him the dominant position he held in the scientific world in the first half of the 19th century. He made extensive collections during Flinders’ coastal surveys, although the major part of his material from the south coast was lost in the wreck of the Porpoise in 1803. He discovered many plants that he thought were unknown; but, after he returned to England, he found that La Billardière had described many of them in his Novæ Hollandiæ Plantæ Specimen (1804–1806). Brown went on to become a notable botanist; but he is best remembered for his discovery of Brownian Motion in 1827. There is not the space here to describe this motion adequately: Brown was studying pollen particles of Clarkia pulchella in water under the microscope. He then observed minute particles, ejected by the pollen grains, executing a jittery motion. By repeating the experiment with particles of inorganic matter, he was able to rule out that the motion was life-related, although the origin of the motion was yet to be explained. That was done later by others, but the motion was named after Brown.

sersalisia sericea flower detailThe wild prune is a shrub or a small tree, 1–6 m tall, with cream or pale brown stems, and brittle stripes in the outer blaze. There is an exudate, but it is slow and meagre. The terminal buds and young shoots are densely clothed in rusty brown hairs. The petioles and twigs also produce a small amount of milky exudate. The length of the leaf blades varies from about 2.5–12 cm, and they may be up to about 6 cm wide. The flowers are greenish white, in clusters along the stem; the sepals have rusty silky hairs on the outer surface, but are glabrous on the inner surface. The corolla is about 5–8 mm long, and like the sepals has rusty silky hairs on the outside and is glabrous on the inner surface; the corolla tube is up to about 5 mm long. The stamens are attached to the tube up to 4 or 5 mm from the base. The staminodes are deltoid, a little over 1 mm long. The pistil is about 6.5 mm long, with the ovary tapering into a style about 1 mm long. The ovary is densely villous, with rusty hairs. The fruit is oblong, sessile, about 2 by 1 cm, glabrous except for the base and the persistent style. The sepals persist. The fruit is succulent, dark purple and edible when ripe. There is usually one seed per fruit.

The plant is endemic to Australia, occurring in Western Australia, the Northern Territory, Cape York Peninsula and north-eastern Queensland. It grows at altitudes from sea level to about 500 m, in open forest, monsoon forest, beach forest and vine thickets, and on rocky headlands.

Photographs © Donald Simpson, taken on Nobby Head, Picnic Bay, 2011

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