Pittosporum ferrugineum W.T.Aiton ssp. linifolium
(Pittosporaceae – the pittosporum family)
common name: Rusty Pittosporum
Pittosporum is derived from two Greek words, πιττα or πισσα (pitta, pissa), pitch, and σπορος (sporos), a seed; ferrugineum is from the Latin ferrugineus, the colour of iron rust, referring to the indumentum; linifolium is also from the Latin, linum, flax and folium, a leaf.
This plant is widespread from South-east Asia through Malesia and Melanesia to northern Australia. Banks and Solander collected it on Palm Island in 1770. It is generally found in littoral rainforest as well as out in exposed sites. It is a very common tree on Christmas Island, where it grows on upper terraces and on the plateau, favouring full sun and poor, dry soil conditions; it is commonly found in abandoned mining sites.
This is a small spreading tree to 6 m tall. The leaves are narrowly elliptic, cuneate at base, entire, slightly undulating, acute to slightly acuminate, rusty-pubescent when young, later becoming almost glabrous. The lamina is 5–20 cm long, the petiole 1–2 cm. They tend to be clustered at the ends of twigs.
The inflorescence is either a terminal or an axillary, clustered, globular panicle, corymbose to umbel-like; the peduncle is pubescent. The flowers are occasionally unisexual, and they are scented. The 5 sepals are free, lanceolate, acute to acuminate, rusty-pubescent. The 5 petals are free, ligulate or widened towards the apex, 6–8 mm long, acute, and yellowish white. The flowers attract birds and bees.
The fruit is a woody seed capsule, globose-ellipsoidal, 2-valved, and orange; the valves are about 7–10 mm long, 9–12 mm wide, notched at the apex. It bursts on ripening to expose the seeds. There are 8–24 seeds, bright red-coated, viscid and coherent. These seeds are probably dispersed by birds. The Pittosporum (pitch-seed) name of the genus is due to this stickiness of the seeds.
Rusty Pittosporum is sometimes planted as a street tree. Care should be taken in siting the tree, as its roots are somewhat invasive.
Photographs © Donald Simpson taken 2010 Nelly Bay, 2012 Arcadia