Dillenia alata

Distribution Map
Family: Dilleniaceae
Distribution: Coastal rainforests of the Northern Territory and Queensland. Also occurs from New Guinea north to Malaysia.
Common Name: Red beech; golden guinea tree
Derivation of Name: Dillenia...after John James Dillenius, German botanist of the 17th and 18th centuries.
alata.... bearing a flattened, wing-like structure, referring to the winged petioles (leaf stalk).
Conservation Status: Not considered to be at risk in the wild.

General Description:

The genus Dillenia contains about 60 species in Asia, of which one, Dillenia alata, reaches tropical Australia.

Dillenia alata
Dillenia alata
Photo: Garry Sankowsky

The red beech is a small tree usually about 6 to 10 metres high, although sometimes smaller. It derives its common name from its beautiful flaky papery trunk, initially copper/pink and becoming maroon with age. The large (10-25 cm by 8-12 cm) ovate leaves are an attractive glossy, dark green colour, while new leaves are reddish brown.

Dillenia alata  
The attractive fruit of red beech.
Photo: Garry Sankowsky

The flowers are bright yellow and 6-9 cm in diameter. They are similar to those of Hibbertia (a member of the same family) and, although they last for one day, they are replaced daily for one to two months in late spring and summer. The open fruit reveal bright red valves and black seeds. These are also an attractive feature of the plant and they contrast well with the dense green foliage.

Dillenia alata grows abundantly in many of the swampy depressions around Cairns. The bark, flowers and leaves all make for an attractive small tree for the subtropical or tropical garden. Sandy soils are preferred and, once established, the species can tolerate periods of dryness. Cultivated plants have tolerated frosts in at least one southern Queensland garden.

Sadly, one is much more likely to find the Indian tree Dillenia indica (Elephant apple) in Cairns nurseries rather than the local species. The situation is similar in Darwin, where an exotic rather than the local species is sold.

Propagation is best from fresh seed. Tip cuttings are reported to strike reasonably under mist.

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