Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cheese Tree

Glochidion ferdinandi
FAMILY: PHYLLANTHACEAE
This tree was named for its little seed capsules, which grow on the female trees and once reminded some imaginative person of a wheel of cheese.



This may have seemed a reasonable analogy when you might have expected a cheese to be wrapped in cloth, tied up with string and dipped in red wax. Nowadays, we’re more likely to think they look like little pumpkins.
These on my neighbour’s tree are not ripe yet. As they mature, outer covering will (theoretically) peel off from the base, leaving a cluster of seeds which are covered by juicy red arils, on the tree. Red arils are always a sign that a tree is prepared to feed the birds, in the hope that they will spread the seeds about, so this is a good tree for a wildlife garden. I practice, I haven’t seen ripe seeds on my neighbour’s tree, so it may be suffering from the lack of a male partner to fertilise the flowers.
Dried immature fruits are added to pot pourri for an ornamental touch - but it seems a pity to pick them when they’re so pretty on the tree.


When it’s not fruiting, the tree can be recognised by its very shiny “two ranked” leaves. (This means that the leaves are arranged in two rows, and the branchlet would lie flat if you put it on a flat surface.)



This is only marginally a species of our district. It’s not found on the Darling Downs, but grows on the eastern escarpment near Toowoomba, and at Ravensbourne, in creeklines.


This well-shaped tree is about thirty years old. It was planted (in red soil) in what was a rather open space at the time, and survived many frosts before the other sheltering trees made frost less common around it. It had no supplementary watering from infancy, though there were good rains in its first few years of life. It has since thrived all through our long drought.



Cheese trees also grow happily under other trees - a useful garden characteristic - and would be an excellent tree to replace the privets which still choke many of our escarpment's sheltered valleys.
The species is a good orchid host.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Will these trees grow in Virginia-USA and if so where can I buy the seeds or plants to grow my own?

Thank you

Patricia Gardner said...

I'm sorry but I know nothing of gardening in the USA, and even less about exporting Australian plant material, so am quite unable to help.
As you may have gathered from my blog,its topic is the growing of species indigenous to my part of the world, and this is my consuming interest.
Now if you were to write to me about a plant native to Virginia, USA, I would be really interested.

Anonymous said...

If you have dogs this is not a tree that you want in your yard. It is lethal.

Patricia Gardner said...

That's a very interesting comment. I can't confirm it from any other sources, nor can I find any suggestion that it is. The tree is ofter grown, so you would expect that if it was dangerous to pets this fact would have found its way into the literature.
Can you please tell me how you know it to be poisonous? Have you personally had an unhappy experience with it, or is this information you have got from elsewhere?
Can you confirm that the cheese tree in question is a Glochidion?
Fruit of the Noni tree, Morinda citrifolia, is also sometimes known as cheese tree, though once again I can find nothing to suggest that it would be dangerous to dogs.
While I appreciate your concern, I suggest readers wait for confirmation that this plant is dangerous before feeling the need to treat it with care.
Trish

Patricia Gardner said...

As an extra thought, there is a belief that potassium is damgerous for dogs. Noni fruit is very high in potassium. I understand that it is only dangerous to dogs (also people and other animals) with compromised liver function which gives them difficulties with removing excess potassium from their bodies.
Could this be the source of the "cheese trees are lethal" idea?
Trish

Jonathan said...

Ant thoughts on companion plants for under and around a cheese tree? I'm thinking of plants that are smaller than cheese trees

Unknown said...

Hi, glad to finally know the type of tree providing such beautiful shade in our garden is in fact a Cheese Tree (Glochidion Ferdinandi). I would like to know more about its care, as i think ours (approx. 20m tall) isnt 100% well. Its not as bushy as others i have seen, and its exposed roots and trunk have been damaged by previous owners. We live in Tewantin, QLD. Would appreciate any advice or direction to a good resource to find out more,
Cheers, Di.

Patricia Gardner said...

Hello Di.
So let's think what the problem could be.
First, trees do need their roots, so you might be right about damage being the problem. Cheese trees do tend to have exposed roots, so that shouldn't be a worry in itself. If poor root health is the problem, mulching with something bio-degradable like "forest mulch" is a good health tonic for rainforest-type trees, (of which this is one).It doesn't really need it close to the trunk, as the roots which matter most are the fine hair-roots, which would be out a bit, in the area of the drip-line.
Second: canopy density can depend on the available light. If your cheese tree is under other trees, or gets a lot of shade, this will cause it to stretch out for more light and the canopy won't be so dense. It is all perfectly natural and healthy, and happens in the wild as well as in gardens. You'll notice that the one in my photo is in full sun, which makes it very bushy. If yours gets more shade, you may just have to accept that for your tree, a less dense canopy is it's natural growth habit.
And thirdly, cheese trees are part of a group we call "semi-deciduous" trees. Such trees lose some of their leaves when times are tough. They do it, (to a greater or lesser extent, depending on how much rain we've had and when it has fallen), between June and September each year. It's partially a response to dryness, so once again, mulch would help by keeping the soil moisture levels up, as would a bit of watering. However, it's not necessary, as a tree in a semi-deciduous state is still perfectly healthy. The leaf-drop is the secret of the tree's drought hardiness, and you can just let it happen, then enjoy the flush of new growth with the first rain in spring or early summer.
I hope there's something there that will help you.
Cheers,
Trish