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Turraea pubescens Hell. 1788
pronounced: tur-RAY-uh pew-BESS-kenz
(Meliaceae – the white cedar family)
common name: Native Witch-hazel
The origin of Turraea is not certain, but it is probably for the Italian botanist and physician Antonio Turra (1736–1797). Turra was born in Vicenza to a well-off middle-class family. Having earned a medical degree from the University of Padua, he practised medicine in Vicenza. He helped found the city’s Agrarian Academy and was its secretary from 1773 until his death. His most famous publication was Floræ italicæ prodromus (A Guide to Italian Flora), a catalogue of 1,700 species of Italian plants. His work earned him awards and membership of many scientific academies both in Italy and abroad. Pubescens is Latin for ‘reaching puberty’, i.e., becoming hairy.
It may be helpful if I write a few lines about witch-hazel, as it does not seem to be as widely known and used here as it is in the northern hemisphere. Witch-hazel is an astringent produced from the leaves and bark of the Witch-hazel shrub, Hamamelis virginiana. American Indians used the plant medicinally long before white settlement. Nowadays, various preparations and distillates of witch-hazel are used as an eye-bath, and for treating sores, bruises, swelling and hemorrhoids. It is also an ingredient of many acne treatments, and applications for stopping the bleeding of shaving cuts.
I have not been able to ascertain whether Turraea pubescens provides extracts that work similarly. Various firms that claim to use only Australian ingredients include witch-hazel in the ingredients of some of their products, but do not state whether it is from the native plant or the American witch-hazel.
Turraea pubescens is a many-branched shrub or small deciduous tree that grows in dry and littoral rainforests and eucalypt forests along the north coast of NSW, along the Queensland coast, and in the extreme north of Western Australia. It is also found in India, Indonesia, Laos, PNG, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. It usually loses most of its leaves in the flowering season, which is late spring and early summer. New growth is pubescent.
The leaves are ovate to elliptic, 3.5–10 cm long and 2–5 cm wide, the apex shortly acuminate, the base rounded, and the margins more-or-less entire. The upper surface of the leaves is hairless, and the lower surface usually hairy, especially on the mid-vein. The mid-vein and the lateral veins are prominent and yellowish. There are sparsely hairy domatia on the lower surface of the mid-vein. The petioles are 1 cm or a little less in length. The flowers are white or creamy white, highly perfumed, usually in clusters of 3–5 flowers. They have 5 free petals, 2.5–3.5 cm long, and 10–12 stamens. The fruit is a capsule, ribbed, more-or-less globose to ovoid, about 1.5 cm long, woody, and 5–7-valved. When mature, the fruits open while still on the plant, and the seeds are revealed. These black seeds are oblong, sometimes narrow-winged, and stay attached to the fruits for some time, before dropping off.
There is a small clump of these bushes by the side of the private road leading up to the development on Knobby Head, and occasional plants are found around the island, generally on the edges of patches of forest. They do well in gardens, in well-drained soils, but do need pruning to maintain a pleasing shape.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken at Picnic Bay 2009-2014
Page last updated 6th March 2017