Opisthiolepis is a monotypic genus. The sole species, Opisthiolepis heterophylla, is a tree occasionally reaching 30 metres in height in its native rainforest, but usually less than half that. It gains its specific epithet from the difference in form of the juvenile foliage (pinnate, many-lobed leaves up to 50cm long) in comparison with the mature foliage (simple lanceolate leaves up to 15cm long and 10cm wide). The mature leaves are dark green above and bronze or gold below. The white flowers are fairly insignificant and occur in pendulous racemes in the leaf axils (axillary) in late summer and early autumn. The racemes are 10-15cm long.
In nature, Opisthiolepis heterophylla grows in rainforest of various altitudes. It has proven fairly easy to cultivate and fast growing. It has been grown as far south as Sydney and is capable of handling light frosts. Regular water, mulch and good drainage are all desirable.
O.heterophylla has been used for its timber but its main feature is its outstanding foliage (which lasts year round unlike most flowers!). This makes it an attractive addition to the subtropical/tropical or rainforest garden.
Propagation is possible from seed – no special pretreatment is necessary, though seed may have a limited viability. Cuttings of firm young growth are also successful.
Photo: Murray Fagg – Australian National Botanic Gardens