Leichhardt Tree

Nauclea orientalis

A visually very impressive tree with unique layered horizontal branching from the trunk.  It has large heart-shaped leaves that have a glossy green upper surface and raised, prominent yellow veins on the lower surface. There are two young specimens already growing well as “bookends at either end of the Community Garden terraces. Throughout spring and early summer the tree produces spherical clusters of fragrant flowers. Each yellow-orange flower in the cluster is tubular with protruding white stamen. These are followed by an aromatic, globular compound fruit about the size of a golf ball. Although edible and a native bush food, the fruit is bitter-tasting. This does not deter birds and flying foxes that play a significant role in spreading the tree through the forests when they void the seeds.

This tree grows naturally from northern Australia and New Guinea to South East Asian, including Sri Lanka.  In Queensland it extends down most of the east coast to about Gladstone. It is a characteristic tree of the gallery forests in northern Australia, but is also found in riparian and lowland forest, and in melaleuca swamps. Adult trees are flood tolerant, and moderately tolerant of occasional fires. These are medium to tall trees, up to about 30 m tall, and are deciduous, shedding their leaves in the dry season.

The Leichhardt tree is also known as the Cheesewood Tree and has a number of traditional and modern uses both in Australia and Asia. The young leaves and tender shoots are steamed and eaten as are the fruit. The bark is used to make an infusion that has a variety of uses – from inducing vomiting, to treating stomach-aches, toothaches and animal bites, as a fish poison to make them easier to catch and for producing a yellow dye. Chemicals (indole alkaloids) that have been extracted from the bark have been shown to have antimalarial and anticancer potential. The wood is easily cut and has a distinctive yellow colour. Although not durable to weather exposure, it is used for internal structures and traditionally for making canoes. It is also used in wood carving and paper manufacture.

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