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Helicteres semiglabra (F.Muell.) F.M.Bailey 1899
pronounced: hell-ICK-tuh-reez sem-ih-GLAB-ruh
(Malvaceae– the hibiscus family)
common name: Helicteres Shrub
Helicteres comes from the Greek 'ελικτος (heliktos), curved, twisted, referring to the twisted fruits or carpels of some of the Helicteres species; semiglabra is from the Latin semi-, half, and glaber, hairless, smooth, bald. Sterculiaceae is from Sterculius, the Roman god who presides over manuring (stercus, dung). He must have drawn the short straw when the jobs were being doled out to the gods. The flowers of many of the members of this family smell awful! The worst I have come across (scoring 10 on a scale of 1–10) is Sterculia foetida, the Java Olive. I saw this tree in Port Douglas when it had shed thousands of flowers on to the ground beneath, and a gas mask would have been handy.
I found the Helicteres shrub along the banks of Gustav Creek, Nelly Bay, only when it was at the fruiting stage. The state of the leaves bears witness to the fact that some creature finds it palatable! I have neither seen nor smelt the flowers, so I have no idea of how highly they score on the stink scale.
The species is a native. I have not been able to find out its complete range, but have found mention of it in Cairns, in the Ross River and Ross Creek catchment area in Townsville, on Mt Stuart, and in Bowling Green Bay, as well as here on the island, in Horseshoe Bay as well as in the Gustav Creek catchment.
The shrub has firm, pubescent leaves, borne alternately in the one plane. They are up to 10 cm long and 8 cm wide, 3-veined at the base, covered in star-shaped hairs. The flowers are borne in clusters in leaf axils on the upper surface of the branch. These flowers are curved, the calyx tubular to 2 cm long with very small lobes; there are 5 petals unequal in size, yellow, fading to orange with age. There are 10 stamens, with the fused filaments forming a ring around the ovary. The ovary is on a long gynophore of 5 carpels, expanding into a densely hairy capsule up to 5 cm long, each carpel twisting rope-like.
The fruits are characteristic of the genus. The seeds are covered with projections resembling warts.
Photographs taken in Nelly Bay 2010-2015
Page last updated 10th December 2016