Melodorum leichhardtii

zig-zag plant


Melodorum leichhardtii

(F.Muell.) Benth 1863

pronounced: mel-oh-DOOR-um lie-KART-ee-eye

(Annonaceae — the custard apple family)


common names: zig-zag vine, wild banana

native 4Melodorum is derived from the Latin mel, honey, and odor, scent (the crushed leaves smell like honey); leichhardtii is for Ludwig Leichhardt (1813-1848), the German explorer who travelled over large portions of the Australian interior, discovering many new plants on the way.

This vine occurs in Cape York Peninsula, north-east Queensland, and southwards as far as north-eastern NSW. In the northern part of its range, it will grow at any altitude up to about 1000 m. It is found in rainforest, gallery forest and vine thickets. It also occurs in New Guinea, and in other parts of Malesia. The plant photographed was found growing on Hawkings Point, Picnic Bay.

The plant usually grows as a scrambling tree-top vine, but can flower and fruit as a shrub. The plant only begins to climb when it is a few years old. The young stems climb by means of loops and sudden bends (hence the ‘zig-zag'). In the rainforest it becomes a large vine reaching up to the canopy. Stem diameters as large as 9 cm have been recorded. When very young, the leaf-bearing trigs are covered in minute rusty-brown stellate hairs. The twig bark is strong and fibrous when stripped. The leaf blades are about 6 – 19 cm long by 2 – 6.5 cm wide. The petioles are about 1 – 5 mm long, and grooved on the upper surface. Close to the leaf margins, the lateral veins form loops.

The flowers, occurring in pairs, often appear to be borne on the twigs opposite the leaves, but they are probably terminal, the axillary bud in the axil of the final leaf producing a leafy shoot that takes over the function of the terminal shoot, and it is this that makes the inflorescence appear lateral and leaf-opposed. The odour of the flower, when present, is rather like that of over-ripe bananas. The flowers are yellow to orange to brown in colour, the petals thick and fleshy, just over a centimetre long; the three outer petals are triangular, and slightly longer than the three inner petals, which are fused at the apex. The ovaries are long and narrow, covered in brown hairs, and the stigma is lobed. The flowers open in the evening.

The fruiting carpels are in umbels. Each carpel is about 2 – 4 cm by about 1 cm, on a stalk a little over 1 cm long. There are up to about 5 seeds per carpel. The fruits are red or orange-red, peanut shaped, edible and tasty. They are hard on the outside, but contain soft pulp. The fruit is eaten by cassowaries.

This is a food plant for the larvae of:

      • the Fourbar Swordtail (Protographium leosthenes),
      • Blue Tiger (Tirumala hamata), and
      • Pale Green Triangle (Graphium eurypylus) butterflies.

Material from the stem and bark has been used to treat various tumours.

The plant is fairly easily propagated from fresh seed, and in the garden it is often pruned to keep it in shrub form. It can also be grown on a substantial trellis or a sturdy pergola. It is often sold by nurseries that specialize in plants for bush tucker.


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.


Photographed on Hawkings Point, Picnic Bay
Page last updated 4th Februsry 2019