Here’s a little plant I found flowering at Ravensbourne last week.
Corkwoods are slender little trees, growing to about 6m tall in the rainforest. Older trees have furrowed corky bark The leaves are dull, grey-green, and these little white flowers will be followed by juicy black berries which are eaten by birds such as topknot pigeons, figbirds, and catbirds.
The tree is quite common, tending to pop up in disturbed areas on the edges of rainforests, and spreads by root suckers. I imagine it is quite fast-growing, as such pioneer species tend to be.
The leaves were used as fish poison by aborigines. They are also poisonous to stock (and to people) but are valued as a commercial source of medicinal drugs. They have been used in medicines for travel sickness, and by eye specialists for dilating the pupils of the eyes, among other things. Workers handling the leaves are affected by the drug in them, which gives them a dry throat, headaches, and blurred vision, so handle this plant with caution, if at all!
A close relative of corkwoods, the western shrub Duboisia hopwoodii, is the source of the drug “pituri”, a narcotic which was widely used by aborigines before white settlement of this country. (The leaves were dried and mixed with the ash of wattle leaves, to make a mixture which was chewed.) It was regarded by them as a valuable trade item. Duboisia is related to tobacco, and the effects of pituri are apparently similar.
Don’t try chewing corkwood leaves, though. There is a real possibility of death resulting from even a small amount of it.
Although scientific study has found that populations of this plant from some areas are much less poisonous than those from others, it probably has no future as a garden ornamental!