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Pipturus argenteus (G.Forst.) Wedd. 1869
pronounced: pip-TOO-russ ah-GEN-tee-uss
(Urticaceae – the nettle family)
common name: Native Mulberry
Pipturus is derived from the Greek πιπτω (pipto), to fall, and ουρα (oura) a tail, with reference to the hairy tail-like stigma, or possibly to the long petiole, acting like a tail for the leaf; argentius is Latin for ‘silvery’, referring to the underside of the leaves.
The fruit of this bush is such a great favourite with the birds that one seldom sees a specimen with any formed fruit on it. Pipturus argenteus is found mainly in warm rainforest, especially in re-growth after clearing, and in tall open forest. In Australia, it occurs on the east coast and lower ranges north from Lismore. It is also found in many areas of New Guinea, the Papuan Islands, New Britain, New Ireland, Manus and Bougainville. On Magnetic Island, there are many of the plants along the banks of Butler Creek in Picnic Bay, and there are some in Arcadia, opposite Bannister’s restaurant.
The native mulberry is a shrub or small tree growing to about 8 m, and is dioecious. The bole is cylindrical (up to 18 cm in diameter), and crooked. The trunk usually branches from near the base, so the bole is usually very short. The bark is green or brown, striped, either smooth or slightly rough.
The leaves occur singly at the nodes, arranged spirally up the branchlets. They are simple, more-or-less ovate, 8–14 cm long and 1–6 cm wide, the margins finely and bluntly dentate, and the lower surface hoary, blue-green or slightly pale green, and dull green on the upper surface, with petioles 2–6 cm long. Stipules are present. Although this is a member of the nettle family, there are no stinging hairs present in this species.
The flower spikes are 1–5 cm long, with the flowers in 3–7 separated globose clusters. There are no petals. There are 4 white or green sepals, some partly joined in the male flowers and all joined in the female. The male have 4 free stamens, and in the female the ovary is superior.
The fruits are in similar clusters, 4–6 mm in diameter, white with dark spots, edible, more-or-less succulent. The dark spots are actually the seeds, which develop on the outside of the fruit as with strawberries. The fruits are eaten as bush tucker (birds permitting): they are sweet, variable in taste, and contain many small seeds. You have to work hard to get a good meal.
The bark was used by islanders and aborigines in cloth making, for cordage, and for fishing lines. These last were made from the inner bark. On some islands the leaves were used as fishing lures, and in the Marshall Islands branches were placed under rocks in the sea, and were believed at attract live cowries.
Photographs taken at Picnic Bay 2010, Nelly Bay 2014, Horseshoe Bay 2017
Page last updated 8th February 2018