Hymenosporum flavum is the only member of the genus Hymenosporum (ie. it is a a monotypic genus). The genus is closely related to Pittosporum, which it resembles in certain respects. It is native to the coastal brush forests of eastern Australia from the Hunter River in New South Wales to Atherton in Queensland and extending to New Guinea.
In tropical areas of its natural habitat some trees grow to 25 metres with a stem diameter of 30 cm or more, but further south it is often much smaller. In cultivation it is usually only a small, very slender and upright tree up to 10 metres high. Bark is grey and roughish, and the branches are sparse, radiating in whorls from the main stem. The deep lustrous green leaves, which resemble those of Pittosporum, are alternately grouped at the ends of the twiggy branchlets, oval-oblong in shape, and 7-15 cm long.
This is a very fine flowering tree that begins to bloom in early spring, when the fragrant, open, tubular flowers are cream-coloured. They darken with age to a deep sulphur yellow before they drop. In some forms the flowers may have a reddish centre. The effect of masses of cream and yellow flowers is very lovely. The flowering period extends to early summer. The 4 cm diameter flowers in terminal corymbs are sweetly scented, and about the size and shape of those of the frangipani, from which the common name is derived. In other respects the tree bears no resemblance.
Fruit capsules are hard and brown, containing numerous closely packed layers of brown, papery seeds.
Native frangipani is one of the most popular Australian plants in cultivation as it is a hardy plant, even growing satisfactorily in dry climates if supplementary water is available. It grows in most reasonably well drained soils but those with a high organic content are preferred. Because of its generally narrow habit of growth, the plant can be recommended for small gardens. Plants flower best in an open, sunny position but can be grown successfully in shady areas. Established plants will tolerate at least moderate frost.
A very compact form known as ‘Gold Nugget” is becoming popular. This cultivar is a compact shrub with glossy green leaves and only grows to around a metre high and wide. It responds well to pruning and forms a very attractive low hedge. Flowers are golden yellow.
Propagation is usually carried out from fresh seed which germinates readily but cuttings are also successful. Cultivars would need to be propagated from cuttings as seedlings may not come true to the original form.
These notes are based in part on an article by Ivan Holliday in ‘Australian Plants’, journal of the Australian Native Plants Society (Australia), June 1998.
Photo: Brian Walters
Some forms of Hymenosporum flavum have flowers with greater or lesser degrees of red at the centre
Photo: Peter Vaughan
A low hedge of the cultivar ‘Gold Nugget’
Photo: Brian Walters
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