Thursday, October 1, 2009

Bitterbark Tree

Alstonia constricta

If you’re quick, you’ll be able to catch this tree while it’s still in flower at Peacehaven Botanic Park, Highfields. The flowers have a very unusual musty sweet smell.

This is an unusually large specimen, retained from what must once have been a significant area of semi-evergreen vine thicket (dry rainforest) on the Peacehaven site. Nowadays, we usually see bitterbarks as slender little trees or shrubs, able to be picked out from a distance by their attractive white trunks. If damaged, they have a tendency to sucker and produce thickets (or hedges).

this is a fast-growing, drought hardy species, with garden potential, but rarely used.

This is one of those rainforest plants - some of them only found in dry rainforest ecosystems like those which once covered much of our local land - which may suddenly find itself highly valued in the future because of its potential to provide the pharmaceutical industry with a new drug.
Its white latex has been used to lower blood pressure, and some Alstonia species are also showing potential as a source of cancer cures.

Our early settlers would add the bark as a “bitter” to their medicinal concoctions and drinks, but I don’t recommend it! (There’s too fine a line between medicines and poisons.)
However, you might like to experiment with the bark for dye-making. A related species is used for this purpose in India. (Expect yellow.)


Mick said...

Hey Trish,

I have a book about pasture weeds that lists alstonia constricta along side brigalow as a terrible threat to agriculture in australia and goes on to list the control measures that have been successfully employed to destroy these terribly pesky native plants.

there you go


Patricia Gardner said...

I didn't know that! I suppose it's the suckering habit of both of them that's the problem.