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Pleiogynium timoriense (A.DC.) Leenh. 1952
pronounced: ply-owe-GUY-nee-um tee-moor-ee-EN-see
(Anacardiaceae – the mango family)
common name: Burdekin Plum
The name Pleiogynium is from the Greek words πλειων (pleion), many, and γυνη (gyne), a woman, referring to the many female parts of the flower. Timoriense means ‘occurring in Timor’, although the tree is native to tropical Queensland, and to the north of Australia as far as the Philippines.
The Burdekin Plum is a tree growing to 20 m tall under good conditions, or a stunted, almost bonsai shrub under harsher conditions, and is found in a variety of habitats, in woodland as well as in vine thickets. The trunk has rough dark grey bark, and the leaves are pinnate with between 3 and 11 glossy green leaflets, with bronze new growth. The trees are monoecious, and both the male and the female flowers are yellowish-green, relatively inconspicuous, borne in large panicles between January and March. The purple-black fruits are up to 4 cm across, and have a large, woody seed, which lies on the forest floor, usually after the thin flesh of the fruit has been eaten by possums. I have seen the seeds described as ‘like little UFOs with portholes in the side’. The seeds are apparently dispersed by fruit bats and wallabies. They are able to germinate many years after being deposited.
The fruits are generally very acid, and too tart to eat straight from the tree. They need to be held for some days to soften and mellow. When I was a boy, we used to bury them in soil or sand, or put them in paper bags in a dark place. The length of time they needed to be buried was a matter for some debate! Usually, with the impatience of youth, we attempted to eat them far too early. The fruits were used as a food by the Aborigines, but Sir Joseph Banks was not impressed by them. He wrote that the fruits were “so full of a large stone that eating them was but an unprofitable business”. They were, however, popular with the early European settlers. The fruit can also be used for jam-making, to flavour meat, or to make wine. Some trees produce fruit with red-purplish flesh, quite tart, others with a pale greenish-white flesh, milder but not so tasty; some fruits are half red – half white, generally reckoned to be the best, and occur naturally in the Townsville region, although I am not sure whether there are any of these last on the island.
On the mainland, experimental plantations have been established, and there appears to be great potential for selecting superior varieties, and for grafting. The timber is regarded as one of the best native timbers by wood-turners. Soon after I came to live on Magnetic Island, I had a Burdekin Plum tree felled – it was overhanging the house, and the possums bombarded the corrugated iron roof with the seeds all night – and the trunk was snapped up by a local wood-turning enthusiast. When a stump from this tree is left in the ground, the wood hardens to an iron-like consistency.
Sawn timber of this species is available, but it is not a common timber. The heartwood ranges from pale to dark reddish brown, usually streaked with darker-coloured bands. The sapwood is usually pinkish brown. It is a close-grained, fine-textured wood, fairly hard, and usually the grain is straight. The timber machines and turns well to a smooth surface, and readily accepts stain, polish and paint. As well as its use for turning, it can be used in cabinet-making, inlay work, and for making walking sticks and umbrella handles.
Photographs taken at Picnic Bay 2006-2013
Page last updated 24th January 2017