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Tabernaemontana pandacaqui Lam. 1792
pronounced: tab-er-nay-MON-tah-nuh pan-de-KA-kwee-eye
(Apocynaceae – the oleander family)
common names: Banana Bush, Windmill Bush
Tabernaemontana is an amalgam of two Latin words, roughly translated as ‘mountain cottage’. It is thought to be thus named in honour of Jacob Theodore of Bergazbern, physician and herbalist at Heidelberg, who coined the word as a Latinization of Bergazbern; pandacaqui Is from the Philippines name for the plant, pandakaki – it was first recorded there.
This is a shrub or a small tree, generally growing 1 - 2 m tall. As well as being endemic to Australia, it is also found in much of south-east Asia, Indonesia, the Philippines and the western Pacific islands. In Australia, it is found to the north of the country, and as far south as into north-eastern NSW. It grows as an understorey plant in rainforest and beach forest, at altitudes up to about 800 m.
The twigs and petioles produce a milky exudate. The stipules are small and inconspicuous, wedged between the petiole and the twig. The dark green leaf blades, elliptic to oblanceolate, range from about 4 to 11 cm in length, by about 1.5 to 4.5 cm in width, on petioles about 0.5 to 1.5 cm long. On each side of the midrib there are 6 - 12 lateral veins, curving, but not forming loops inside the margin.
The large numbers of showy white windmill-like flowers with 5 petals are borne on pedicels about 6 – 10 mm long. Both the pedicel and flower parts also produce a milky exudate when cut. The calyx lobes are glabrous, up to about 3 mm long with 3 or 4 small glands on the inner surface near the base. The corolla tube is up to about 17 mm long, and has lobes with flounced margins; the styles are fused just below the hairy stigma, which is retuse at its apex; the stigma is papillose.
Like the other parts of the plant, the fruits produce a milky exudate when cut or damaged. The fruiting carpels are usually paired, and are up to about 4 by 1.5 cm in size, more-or-less boat-shaped, and opening upwards. They turn yellow when they are ripe. The seeds are small, with pink to crimson arils.
The fruit is highly poisonous, and it would be sensible to remove the fruits if the plant is growing in areas where small children play.
It makes an excellent container plant. In the garden, plant it in an area of part shade with rich soil and good drainage. It responds well to trimming.
The root bark has been used to treat tropical fevers, and the indigenous Australian peoples rubbed the fruits on sores to assist healing. The leaves have been used as a cataplasm on the belly to induce menstruation and to hasten parturition, and a concoction of leaves has been added to the bathwater of women after childbirth. The roots are used as an antidiarrhœal, and scrapings from the roots rubbed on to a sore nose. Sap from the ripe fruit is applied to skin affected by ringworm, and a poultice made from the plant is used to reduce swellings and abscesses.
The leaves are sometimes used as a bleaching agent.
Photographed in a garden in Arcadia, 2018
Page last updated 26th April 2018