Saturday, June 13, 2009

Black Plum-Ebony in Boyce Gardens

Diospyros australis
This morning, to my delight, I found this little ebony tree in Toowoomba City’s only remnant patch of rainforest. Friends and I searched for it without success last year, and were disappointed not to find it, as it is one of the important indicator species of that particular type of rainforest.
It is not so very difficult to identify, because of its dark green leaves which are strongly “two-ranked”, (in two flat, parallel rows), on branchlets which tend to zig-zag. Today, however, any doubts about identification would have been dispelled by the ripe black fruits, in their little cup-like calyxes which are typical of the ebony family. This was a female plant, of course. I didn’t find any males about, but there must be some there as this female was able to set fruit.
Plum ebonies are one of our five local species of true ebony, all of which are related to the Indian tree (Diospyros ebenum) which produces the famous, hard, black timber traditionally used for piano keys. Another well-known ebony is the persimmon (Diospyros kaki).
Our ebonies also have beautiful heartwood, and edible fruits.
I haven’t actually tried eating them, as I don’t expect to like them much. They are probably astringent unless very ripe, and might not ripen unless stored and picked. If you really want to try one, do make sure you don’t waste the seed. There are not enough of these trees around Toowoomba, despite it being the plant’s original habitat.
As with most rainforest seeds, this one probably loses its viability quickly. The trick is to not let it dry out. If you can’t plant it at once, keep it in a plastic bag until you can.
Plum ebonies can be grown as small trees, and like to spend their early lives in a shady place, but can eventually emerge, growing in the sun where their shady canopies are appreciated. They would also make a lovely hedge, in a shady spot. Their dense canopies make them favourite bird-nesting sites, and fruit pigeons love the fruit.
These are drought resistant, frost hardy plants, also suitable for fire-retardant planting

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