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No. 31: Gmelina Leichardtii,


The White Beech

(Natural Order VERBENACÆ)

Botanical description

— Genus, Gmelina, Linn.

Calyx. — Four or 5-toothed or sinuate-lobed.

Corolla-tube. — Much dilated upwards, or almost campanulate; limb oblique, with 4 or 5 spreading lobes, the two upper ones sometimes united in an upper lip.

Stamens. — Four, in pairs, shorter than the corolla.

Ovary. — Four-celled, with 1 ovule in each cell laterally attached at or above the middle; style filiform, unequally 2-lobed at the top.

Fruit. — A succulent drupe, the putamen hard or bony, 4-celled or rarely 2-celled.

Seeds. — Solitary in each cell, without albumen.

Trees or tall shrubs.

Leaves. — Opposite, undivided.

Flowers. — Often rather large, pale purplish pink or blue, or in species not Australian yellow, in cymes arranged in irregular terminal panicles, sometimes almost reduced to simple racemes.

Bracts small.

Botanical description

— Species, G. Leichhardtii, F.v.M., in B.Fl. v, 66.

A fine timber tree, attaining a great height, the young branches and inflorescence tomentose.

Leaves. — Ovate, scarcely acuminate but rather acute, rounded or cuncate at the base, 3 to 6 inches long somewhat coriaceous, quite glabrous, and almost rugose on the upper side, much reticulate, with raised veins and densely and softly tomentose underneath, the petiole often above 1 inch long.

Flowers. — " White, with purple markings," numerous in opposite pedunculate cymes forming loose ovoid or shortly pyramidal terminal panicles.

Calyx. — Broadly turbinate-campanulate, truncate, tomentose, and not 2 lines long at the time of flowering, enlarged and spreading under the fruit.

Corolla. — Villous outside, the tube very broad and dilated upwards, twice as long as the Calyx, the lobes ovate, above 2 lines long, the two upper ones rather larger and shortly united in an upper lip.

Stamens. — Incurved, the longer pair about as long as the upper lip; anther-cells diverging.

Fruits. — In the specimens seen all deformed by insects, the calyx opening out horizontally to a diameter of 6 to 8 lines and obscurely sinuate-toothed. (B.Fl. v, 66) See p. 186.

Botanical Name

— Gmelina, in honour of George Gmelin, a German naturalist and traveller (Georg Friedrich), author of a botanical work published at Tilbingen in 1699. Leichhardtii is also in honour of a German naturalist and traveller, an Australian explorer whose name is ever before the people of New South Wales and Queensland.

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Vernacular Names

— This tree is favoured by being universally known as Beech, or White Beech, and by no other names; but it should be borne in mind that hardly any term is more loosely known in New South Wales than that of Beech. We have a true Beech (the Negro-head, Fagus Moorei), and in addition She Beech, Blue Beech, Brown Beech, Bully Beech, and many other beeches, most of which only resemble each other in all being totally dissimilar to the beech of Europe.

Sometimes, in the Illawarra, it goes by the name of "Long Jack," owing to its size.

Aboriginal Names

— "Coo-in-new " of the Illawarra, according to the late Sir William Macarthur ; " Binburra " of those of northern New South Wales. Mr. W. Bacuerlen informed me that an old timber-getter, of Lismore, told him that the aboriginal name was " Binna Burra." There is a station on the Lismore-Tweed railway line called Binna Burra, and his informant told him that this used to be the chief locality where they formerly obtained the White Beech, he himself having taken many and many a thousand feet of it from the locality. " Cullonen " was in use by some tribes in Queensland.


— Vitex Leichhardtii, F.v.M., Fragm. iii, 58, Tectona grandis, Hill, in Cat. Queensland Woods, London Exhibition, 1862, p. 20, where he speaks of it as follows:—

This very useful tree has a lofty cylindrical stem; the bark ash-coloured; the leaves are obovate, downy underneath, from 4 to 6 inches long and from 2 to 3 inches broad. The flowers are in panicles, large, purple; the seeds in four-celled drupes. The wood has, by experience, been found to be useful; it is easily worked, and at the same time it is both strong and durable. It does not expand by damp and contract by dry weather. The river steamers of Queensland use it principally for the floats of their wheels. It is found in small quantities, in the scrubs bordering the rivers.


— They are very handsome, white with purple markings, as stated by Bentham, and sometimes almost entirely purple.


— Fruit described by Maiden and Betchenote in the following words:—

This is the first time that we have noticed ripe fruits on the tree in the Gardens, and as the fruits are not described in the "Flora Australiensis" we give a short description of them: — Fruits of a dull mauve, almost blue colour, somewhat depressed globular, nearly 1 inch in diameter; always provided with the persistent, flattened out, and enlarged calyx.


— The leaves are rather large, and show handsome venation, particularly on the underside. Like many other verbenaceous plants, they readily fall off in drying.


— A very useful timber, strong, durable, and easily worked. It does not expand in damp or contract in dry weather if moderately seasoned, hence

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it is much prized for the decks of vessels and the flooring of verandahs. Speaking of this timber, Mr. Baeuerlen wrote to me:—

I have just seen a staircase, and eleven months ago the tree from which the wood was taken was growing in the forest. It was cut at once, green as it was, and up to the present no sign of shrinking or cracking can be seen.

It warps neither in plank nor in log. It is excellent for picture-frames, and is a wood frequently chosen where it would not be safe to trust a wood of which there might be doubts as to whether it would shrink or warp. It is used for the floats of mill-wheels, the jambs of windows, and for innumerable other purposes. It would be almost impossible to misplace it for ordinary indoor carpentry work, If I were asked to name the three most valuable timbers of New South Wales I would say, Grey Ironbark, Cedar, and Beech.

One drawback to this valuable timber is that where it is used for flooring which is exposed to the weather, around every nail there becomes a hole in the course of a few years. This is usually explained by ascribing to Beech some property which eats or rusts away the nails. For the same reason, wine-casks of Beech can never be hooped with black iron. So far as I am aware, no chemist has ever examined Beech to see if it contains a trace of free acid or some salt which would explain the corrosion above referred to.

Beech is largely used for the manufacture of vats for wine, and I believe it is an admirable wood for the purpose. It is too short in the grain to split, so that split staves cannot be made of it. As regards its use by coach-builders, Mr. S. Lownds, Teacher in Coachbuilding at the Technical College, informed me -

This is a very useful timber for panels and thin boards. It is pretty durable, but rather soft, but its softness is, in some instances, an advantage. Where extreme heat or moisture has to be considered, as in bakers' carts, Beech will be found to withstand such influences better than most timbers. It paints and polishes well, is very easily worked, and does not readily split.

It is pale-coloured, white with a tinge of brown. As a very general rule, it is plain, but occasionally it shows a neat grain, which is ornamental. It is rather close-grained and excellent to work. If it be glued with Russian glue, mixed with sour milk, it will hold like solid wood when made into furniture. It is very extensively used for ships' blocks.

Up till a few years ago it was remarkable that no engineering tests had been made of such an universally-appreciated timber. Professor Warren has rectified the omission in his work on Australian timbers, published for the Chicago Exhibition. The timber referred to as White Beech is the one under discussion, the other beech (Negro-head) is a Fagus. Professor Warren gives the weight of some beech he tested as 19.1 lb. per cubic foot. I examined some which was bone-dry, having been seasoned over a quarter of a century; its weight was 36 lb. per cubic foot. On the average (as found in the market), its weight is between 40 and 50 lb. per cubic foot.

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— From 80 to 120 feet high, and a diameter of 2 to 4 feet. The Sydney Morning Herald, of 16th August, 1898, says:—

An Enormous Beech Tree. — Mr. Nicholl's steamer, "Excelsior," which yesterday arrived in port, brought, as part cargo, an enormous beech tree from the Byron Bay district. The tree was cut into logs 9 feet in length, and averaged about 17 feet in girth. Only the main barrel of the giant was brought to Sydney, and this comprises 10,000 feet of timber, which filled one-half of the vessel's hold.


— The north bank of the Shoalhaven is its southernmost limit in New South Wales; thence it extends along the coast, in brushes, to Southern Queensland. It is found in the Shoalhaven district and the Illawarra, but is not plentiful. It used to be found in Jasper's Brush, but not on the Cambewarra Mountain. Proceeding north, a few trees may be found in the brushes about Otford, Lilydale, &c., but I have not seen any. It skips the Sydney district and reappears in the Brisbane Water district, being cut at the present time, though to a small extent (as good trees are in almost inaccessible localities), about Wyong Creek, Cooranbong, &c. Then it is found here and there along the coast, but nowhere very plentifully There is a good deal back from the Bellinger and Coff's Harbour. It occurs all through the Big Scrub, on the Richmond and Brunswick, and also in isolated patches of scrub on the Tweed. It is not a plentiful tree; it nowhere appears to be gregarious, but in isolated trees, far apart.

Following, area few specific notes:—

Never plentiful in my district; only a few trees left in very rugged places — (Forester Martin, (Gosford.) One or two saplings only in my district. — (Forester A. Rudder, Bowral.)

It is found on Tallowak Mountain (back of Failford), also at John's River, and at Pappinbarra Creek, 40 miles back from Port Macquarie. This timber is getting so scarce that notes of localities from which it is obtained at the present time are interesting. Lattice-laths of beech were being cut at Laurieton. — (J.H.M.)

Sparsely distributed throughout the brush portion of my district. Large quantities have been removed from this district years ago, particularly from the Allgomera Forests and the Upper Nambucca; but not much remains in easily accessible districts. Probably from 20,000 to 40,000 feet might be readily obtained at an advanced price. -(Forester MacDonald, Kempsey.) Very little in my immediate locality. — (G. M. McKeown, Wollongbar.) A few trees are to be found on Reserves 4,353 and 10,723, county Rous; 14,150, county Buller, 1,120, counties Rous and Buller; on Crown lands, Haystack and Watershed between Koreela and Beaury Creeks, county Buller-(Forester Crowley, Casino.)


— From the fruits (beech-nuts). Unfortunately, however, they are usually attacked by an insect as they approach maturity, and this, combined with the natural hardness of the seed, renders propagation of the Beech usually a difficult matter. This is to be regretted, as one sees so few seedlings and saplings of the White Beech coming forward in the brushes. The tree, therefore, is within measurable distance of extermination in readily accessible localities. It would be nothing less than a national calamity if this valuable tree were to practically die out. In most cases our trees propagate themselves readily, and what is chiefly

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required is to conserve the young growth, not to make artificial plantings; but in the case of the White Beech, I think an exception should be made, and artificial propagation resorted to in suitable localities. Indian Teak seeds are very similar to White Beech seeds, and indeed the two trees are closely allied, botanically. Both seeds take a long time to germinate under ordinary circumstances. The method of preparing Teak seeds for germination in India is to bury heaps of them in a shallow earthen pit which is covered over with soil and kept moist. When the seeds begin to germinate they are opened out and carefully planted.


— We have two other Gmelinas in Australia, but they are Queensland trees and do not extend to New South Wales. Their timber resembles that of our beech a good deal. There are five or six other species, confined to India, the Malay Archipelago, and the regions between.

Of the three Indian species of Gmelina, of which G. arborea is the most important, Gamble, in his Manual of Indian Timbers, says:—

The wood is easily worked and readily takes paint or varnish; it is very durable under water. It is highly esteemed for planking, furniture, door-panels, carriages, well-work, boats, toys, packing-cases, and all ornamental work. It would probably be a valuable wood for tea-boxes. It is the chief furniture wood of Chittagong, and is in some demand in Calcutta.

He quotes Captain Baker as stating that it is —

Well calculated for light planking, panelling, blinds, and venetians, and of much estimation for pictureframes, organ-pipes, sounding-boards, and such other work where shrinkage has to be avoided.

It is noticeable that this property of comparative absence of shrinkage is a characteristic of both the Indian and the New South Wales Beech.


Plate 33: The Beech or White Beech (Gmelina Leichhardtii, F.v.M.) Lithograph by M. Flockton

  • A. Corolla, opened out, showing didynamous stamens.
  • B. Exterior of corolla.
  • C. Gynæceum, showing unequally 2-lobed stigma.
  • D. Stamen, with diverging anther-cells.
  • E. Stamen, the anther discharging pollen.
  • F. Fruits.
  • G. Putamen (stone of the seed), the mesocarp (succulent part) removed.

Footnotes Issue No. 31

Supplementary Material Added at the End of Volume 2

No. 31. Part IX.

Gmelina Leichhardtii, F.v.M.


(Natural Order VERBENACEÆ.)

Timber. — See vol. i, p. 186.

A large tree, with fairly smooth grey bark, rough dark-green leaves; trunk of ten crooked, irregularly shaped, and sometimes having buttresses at the base. Wood varies in colour, sometimes light-grey, palepink, and dark-brown; the first-mentioned being perhaps the most common. It is heavier than soft woods generally, close-grained, soft, and very easily worked. Shrinks very little, and is, resistant to white ants. Used for verandah flooring, decking of vessels, joinery, cabinet-work, carving, and turnery. It stands exposure to the weather better than any of our soft timbers, excepting cypress pine (Callitris robusta). — (Catal. Queensland Forestry Museum, 1904.)

Habitat. — See vol. i, p. 188.

Mr. District Forester T. H. Wilshire, in reporting it from Kangaroo Creek, 30 miles from Grafton, says that a fair amount in log is shipped to Sydney. As regards Queensland, the following is quoted from the official catalogue just referred to: —

This timber, being much prized, was extensively used in former years; the quantity remaining now being limited. Occasional trees are, however, met with in sonic of our coastal scrubs, north and south, but generally in such places as are difficult of access.

Supplementary Material Added To Volume 4

No. 31. Part IX. See also vol. ii, p. 199.

Gmelina Leichhardtii, F.v.M. THE WHITE BEECH. (Family VERBENACEÆ.)


(a) Gmelina Leichhardtii: Tree in the Botanic Gardens, Sydney. — (Government Printer, photo.)

(b) "White Beech." — (From the Report of the Forestry Branch, Department of Lands, N.S.W., 1906–07.)

Supplementary Material Added With Volume 6

No. 31. Part IX. See also vols. ii, p, 199; iv, p. 164.

Gmelina Leichhardtii F.v.M.




Typical scrub on Richmond Range, showing stump of large Beech Tree (Gmelina Leichhardtii). Photo forwarded by C.A. Ballard, Forest Guard, Mallanganee, N.S.W

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