Pachygone ovata (Poir.) Diels
(Menispermaceae – the Stephania family)
common name: Fish Berry
Menispermaceae is derived from the Greek μηνη (méné), the moon and σπερμα (sperma), a seed, referring to the crescent-shaped seeds of the members of this family. Pachygone is from παχυς (pachys) thick, and γονη (goné) offspring, in this case, seed; while ovata is from the Latin ovatus, egg-shaped. The common name is due to the traditional use, not only of this species, but also of many other plants of the Menispermaceae family, as a fish poison.
Pachygone ovata is native to Australia, Christmas Island, South India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Java, Borneo, Timor and New Guinea. In Australia it is found on the coast of Western Australia north of Derby, in much of Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, and in Queensland on the western coast of Cape York Peninsula, and the east coast from Cape York as far south as about the Tropic of Capricorn.
This is a deciduous woody straggling shrub that, given the right conditions, can climb to 15 m or more, yellowish pubescent, often found in vine thickets, especially those on sandy sea shores, in foothills, and in scrub up to am altitude of 900 m. When in flower, it is prominent by its drooping branches and yellow racemes. One of the plants photographed grows over some rocks by the side of Harry’s Road up to Nobby Head in Picnic Bay, and the plant in flower was near the old helipad in Nelly Bay.
The leaves are ovate-lanceolate to broadly ovate, truncate to rounded at the base, acute to obtuse, turning yellow with age; the lamina is 5–11 cm long, the petiole 2.5–4 cm long. The plant is monoecious, with sweet-scented yellow flowers, 2–3 mm across, on 4–10 cm long axillary racemes. There are 6 each of sepals and petals, 6 stamens in the male flowers, incurved, and 3 minute rudimentary carpels. In the female flowers there are 6 staminodes and 3 ovaries. The fruit is a reniform drupe, green to orange to purple.
The fruits are used as a fish poison, and, in folk medicine, extracts of the leaves and stems are used to kill lice, and to expel intestinal worms.
Photographs © Donald Simpson, taken at Picnic Bay & Nelly Bay 2011