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Eucryphia lucida - Leatherwood

Alan M. Gray

Leatherwood is a very common Tasmanian tree in wet forests from sub-alpine to lowland situations. It belongs to the family Eucryphiaceae that is closely allied to Rosaceae and Saxifragaceae. Four other species of Eucryphia occur in Australia, another endernic to Tasmania, E.milliganii, one in Victoria and New South Wales coastal districts, E.moorei, and two recently discovered species from Queensland, E.wilkiei and E.jinksii.

Eucryphia lucida  
Eucryphia lucida
Photo: Joy and Bob Coghlan

Eucryphia lucida occurs as a tall shrub or a fair sized tree in rainforests and sub-alpine shrubberies in most areas of Tasmania. It likes rich soils and tolerates a very high annual rainfall - 1500 to 2500 mm. It is one of the faster growing trees, forming dense thickets from seed fallen by roadsides where other trees have been removed.

Generally between 2-10 metres, Leatherwood may be sometimes much higher in favourable positions. The opposite leaves are shortly stalked and 2-4 cm long, simple, elliptical-lanceolate, with the apex blunt and rounded. The leaf margins are entire, the upper surface dark and glossy, lower surface white. Young leaves and buds covered with a sticky, gummy substance.

In late spring and summer, masses of large, white conspicuous flowers, resembling small single roses, cover the trees, attracting innumerable insects. The flowers have a strong, sweet perfume, which is very noticeable on warm days. Honey producers have been quick to utilize the large quantities of nectar produced, and in summer many forest roads are lined with beehives, all engaged in producing the well-known "Leatherwood honey." There are two pink flowered cultivars of E.lucida available.

Leatherwood Honey
The nectar from the flowers of Eucryphia lucida produce a honey that is distinctive in its spicy flavour and strong perfume. There is no other honey quite like it and the industry it supports is important to the Tasmania economy. Leatherwod is responsible for 70% of all honey produced in Tasmania

Jar of honey
Photo: Tasmanian Honey Co.

....and if the thought of leatherwood honey on your breakfast toast isn't sufficiently exciting, Boag's Honey Porter might be more to your taste. It combines a new Tasmanian hop variety with leatherwood honey in a traditional porter brew.
For further information see:
* The Tasmanian Honey Company
* Leatherwood - Honey from the Forest
* Boag's Honey Porter

The fruit is a capsule, leathery, opening into boat-shaped sections, valves tipped by the persistent styles. The winged seeds are numerous.

Propagation and Cultivation

This species is well worth planting as a garden specimen, being quite easy to cultivate and makes a fine display in the summer months.

E.lucida is easily propagated from seed or cuttings, however, seeds give much quicker results. The seed ripens in the capsules during February to April and falls very soon after. The best medium for propagation is one with good moisture holding properties but with adequate drainage. A recommended mixture is as follows:
  • one part fine bush loam;
  • one part coarse, well rotted forest humus; and
  • one part coarse sand.

This mixture serves well as a germinating medium and a potting medium. When the seeds germinate, which usually takes from 6-8 weeks, they should be allowed to grow until approximately 1 cm high, then either potted into small pots or planted out into boxes. After attaining a height of 1 m or so, they may be transplanted into a permanent position in the garden.

The position they require is one shaded from the hot summer sun and winds with plentiful moisture and adequate drainage. When the tree reaches 1-2m in height it can be pruned after each flowering season, either to keep it to a reasonable height or to form a compact, shapely shrub. In cooler wetter areas it would make a fine street-planting tree, provided it was given some protection from damage in the early stages of growth.

An opportunity lost?

Over thirty years ago, all Australian States and Territories enacted legislation to endorse a native plant, indigenous to their respective regions, as their floral emblem.

Eucryphia lucida  
Eucryphia lucida 'Pink Cloud'
Photo: Kris Schaffer

All other States and Territories chose plants, which were relatively small, usually easily cultivated, and which had a particular charm. Tasmania, the smallest state, in its wisdom chose what must be potentially the largest and most massive plant possible. This was the Tasmanian blue gum, Eucalyptus globulus, a tree quite capable of attaining heights in excess of 60-70 metres with massive branches, invasive root systems and a girth to match.

So how do Tasmanians exercise their patriotism by including their State's floral emblem into their suburban garden? They don't! Some local Council regulations actually prohibit the planting of this species on average urban blocks. Within as few as ten years the blue gum can reach 20 - 30 metres with a huge crown and widely invasive root system. Branches and other rubbish are constantly shed from the crown - the list of vices goes on. A magnificent tree in its natural forest environment but emphatically NOT a garden plant!

At the time of the inception of floral emblems, the Tasmanian region of the SGAP, now the Australian Plants Society (Tasmania), put forward an alternative to the blue gum as our emblem. However this suggestion fell on deaf official ears.

The Society's suggestion was for a small, neat tree found only in Tasmania. Easily grown, size and shape manageable by pruning, even suitable as tub specimen and with a benign root system. What's more, the flowers may be profuse in summer - a beautiful clear white or, if preferred a delicate pink form is available. The flowers are attractive to bees, which produce, from the nectar, a world famous honey. The plant? Eucryphia lucida, the 'Tasmanian leatherwood'.

Good one, Tassie!

Updated from the article originally published in the Society's journal "Australian Plants", March 1966 issue.


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Australian Plants online - June 2004
Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants