Tuesday, March 6, 2012


Vitex lignum-vitae

I am delighted to find that my little satinwoods are fruiting prolifically this summer. They have such pretty fruits!

I hadn’t expected them to fruit so soon, as a mere four years ago they looked like this.
(Note the very different leaf shape on the juvenile plant).

Now they are like this, and are demonstrating just what a handsome plant they can be. You can see that they are beginning to develop the tall, narrow profile which is typical of older trees. I expect them to also develop distinctive fluted, silver-grey trunks.

They are very drought hardy. These plants spent their first two years in hard drought, and thought I watered them for their first six weeks they managed to continue their fast growth rate once I stopped. We find them locally growing on slopes in dry rainforests on red soil (such as at Franke Scrub) and on the black as (at Gowrie Junction).

I collected this bowl of fruits from under my trees. They look delicious, don’t they?
I have occasionally seen them included in “bush tucker” lists, but there seem to be no records of their traditional use, so I don't think they should be trusted.

I find their taste somewhere between completely bland and a little nasty. I am also put off by what’s known about their relative the Chaste Tree, Vitex agnus-castus, from the Mediterranean region. That plant is used medicinally, with its qualities having given it that curious common name. The fruit is said to have been eaten medicinally, and has no doubt found favour with monks, who may have felt they needed it from time to time.
Birds eat them, and are welcome to any of mine.
I would like to grow more from seed, but understand that they might take as much as two years to germinate. Steve Plant of the Crows Nest Community Nursery tells me that he prefers to grow old seeds found under trees, as they are likely to be further along through the dormancy period. They can be hard to find, but simply gathering a handful of soil from under the tree and treating it like a pot of seeds can produce the desired result, he tells me.
A.G. Floyd, in his book “Rainforest Trees of Mainland Eastern Australia” confirms the difficulty in getting seedlings up, and recommends putting the seeds in a blender with some water to scarify them. I’ll give that a try.
Old satinwoods produce lovely residential hollows for wildlife, but, sadly, their value as timber trees means that our timber-getting forebears have left very few of them to grow old enough for good hollow production. The dark grey timber is said to be hard, tough and durable, suitable for flooring and tool handles.
The smallest branchlets are also tough and flexible, good to use for basketry.
These are very long-lived trees, so it is satisfying to know that the ones we plant will be alive long after we are gone.


Anonymous said...


The corksrew flaged trunk is what I think is the most appealing attribute of this tree. Vitex is a cracker. It might just get my vote for the best scrub tree ever award. I have grown a few from seed. You need to be patient.

Righto then

Patricia Gardner said...

Hi Mick.
I have a packet of seeds fermenting on the kitchen windowsill, and high hopes for the long-term future. I think this is why gardeners live to a great old age. (As Shakespeare said, "There is no ancient gentlemen but gardeners").
We have to keep on keeping on, as we want to see what will happen!

Anonymous said...

I plan to live to 200 so that I can fully appreciate the fruits of my labours. I have planted plenty of trees that will need this time to mature.


Patricia Gardner said...

Good plan, Mick. Me too. We've just had a weekend camping with the grandchildren, and right now I feel as though I'm just about there!