Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sweet Morinda

Gynochthodes jasminoides (Morinda jasminoides)
Like the plant above, this vine’s domatia are also “over the top”.

In this case, it’s not their numbers which impress, but their size. The mite-habitat pits are so large that they make conspicuous bumps on the upperside of the leaves, making the plant easy to identify when it's not flowering or fruiting.
“Morinda” is an Indian word, and is the common name for Morinda citrifolia, a plant which grows in south-east Asia, some Pacific islands, and in tropical northern Australia. It is also called Indian mulberry or noni fruit. Its potato-sized fruit tastes foul, and may be toxic if too much is consumed, but is nonetheless popular for its alleged health-giving properties. The bark and leaves of the Indian Mulberry yield a red dye, while yellow dye is made from its roots. As with its relative the mulberry, its leaves can be used to raise silkworms. Our local Morindas may be found to have some of the same useful qualities, but like many Australian plants, their potential has never been fully explored.
Our two local Morinda species typically grow on the edges of both moist and dry rain forests, and in vine thickets. Sweet morinda is the larger of the two.
In the open, it grows into a large tangled shrub - great for covering an ugly tree-stump or hiding a tumbledown shed. With a bit of discipline from the secateurs, it makes a handsome bird-sheltering shrub. If there is anything to climb on, however, this plant will do it with enthusiasm. Despite its somewhat disorderly behaviour, it’s one of our prettiest native plants. Even when not flowering or fruiting, its very shiny leaves make it appealing.

Sweet Morinda is named for the scent of its creamy, butterfly-attracting white flowers, which are produced for up to three months in spring and early summer. They are followed by lumpy, orange, bird-attracting orange fruits, up to 2cm in diameter. These are worth a close look, being actually compound fruits formed by the fusion of many tiny fruits, with no two quite alike.

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