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No. 6: Alphitonia excelsa,


The Red Ash

(Natural Order RHAMNACEÆ.)

Botanical description,

— Genus, Alpltitonia, Reissek.

Calyx. — Five-lobed, spreading.

Petals. — Involute.

Stamens. — Five, included in the petals.

Disk. — Thick, filling the calyx-tube.

Ovary. — Immersed in the disk, two or rarely three celled, tapering into a shortly lobed style.

Drupe. — Globular or broadly ovoid, the epicarp of a dry, mealy or somewhat corky substance; endocarp of two or three hard coriaceous nuts or cocci, opening inwards by a longitudinal slit.

Seeds. — With a shining hard testa, completely enclosed in a membranous brown shining arillus, open at the top, but with the edges folded over; albumen cartilaginous or horny; cotyledons flat.

Tree. — Leaves alternate, penninerved. Cymes dichotomous, many-flowered. Seeds often persisting on the torus after the pericarp has fallen off.

Botanical description

— Species, A. excelsa, Reissek, in Endl. Gen., 1098.

A tall hard-wooded timber-tree, the young branches, petioles, and inflorescence hoary or rusty with a close tomentum.

Leaves. — Petiolate, varying from broadly ovate or almost orbicular and very obtuse, to ovate or lanceolate and acute or acuminate, usually 3 to 6 inches long, entire, coriaceous, glabrous or slightly hoary above, white, or rarely rust-coloured underneath with a close tomentum, the parallel pinnate veins very prominent.

Flowers. — Two to three lines diameter, in little umbel-like cymes, arranged in dichotomous cymes in the upper axils or in a terminal corymbose panicle. Calyx tomentose.

Disk. — Broad and nearly flat.

Fruit. — Three to four lines diameter, or sometimes rather larger. (B.Fl., i. 414)

Botanical Name

— Alphitonia, from the Greek alphiton signifying "baked barley-meal," in allusion to the mealy nature of the epicarp; excelsa, Latin, signifying "high".

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Vernacular Names

— "Red Ash," "Leather Jacket," and "Coopers'Wood." In the Illawarra district of New South Wales it is called "Humhug."

Its general name is "Red Ash," owing to the frequently bright red appearance of the heart-wood. Occasionally also it is called "Mountain Ash." For obvious reasons it is sometimes known as "Coopers' Wood," while its smooth compact bark is alluded to in the name "Leather Jacket."

Aboriginal Names

— The late Sir William. Macarthur gave the name "Murrung," in use by the aboriginals in the Illawarra district, and Mr. Charles Moore gave "Nono Gwyinandie," as in use on the Clarence River many years ago. In northern New South ales an aboriginal name was also "Culgera-cul-era," while some Queensland ones called it "Mee-a-mee." Mr. Forester Mecham. gave its aboriginal name on the Bellinger as "Coraminga."


— Colubrina excelsa, Fenzl. in Huegel, Enum. 20.


— Three to five lines in diameter, described by Asa Gray as a globose, baccate drupe, girt at the base with the persistent circumscissile tube of the calyx, which forms a kind of cupule.

The colour of the fruit is a dull bluish-black, which contains shiny reddish-brown seeds embedded in a brown powdery substance.


— On observing a statement that Bed Ash bark had been used for tanning, I investigated a sample from Bangley Creek, Cambewarra. It yielded 32.9 per cent. of extract, but only 8 per cent. of tannic acid, and the comparatively high percentacye of 3.75 of gallic-acid and impurities. The bark powders well, and yields but little fibre; the powder is, however, of a dark brown colour. The colour of the, liquor is deep for a bark yielding such a low percentage of tannic acid, but the liquid remaining after extraction of the tannic acid by hide powder is of a light reddishbrown colour, differing from the colouring matter of Acacia, barks, which is entirely removed by hide powder. This points to the fact that skins tanned with Red Ash bark would not turn out so dark a colour as would be expected from examination of the liquor.


— When a log is freshly cut it is of a pale colour, and looks simply like Ash. It is straight in the grain, works easily, and is somewhat tough. But in the course of a few weeks or months the heart-wood darkens, the sapwood retaining its original pale colour. According to age of tree, length of exposure or seasoning, this heart-wood may change to brown-reds of all depths of tint and even to bright red of a very ornamental character. The meaning of the name "Red Ash" is thus explained. When I first gave attention to this timber some years ago, I had a piece so fiery red that I did not believe the colour was natural, and planed the surface, only to find the colour was skin deep, but it returned, in course of time, to its original deep colour. This colouration has not yet been carefully examined, and we

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are, therefore, unable to give a satisfactory explanation of it. The colouring of Red Ash, like the colouring of a meerschaum pipe, takes time, and this is, of course, a drawback. I know of no other New South Wales timber which has such a striking colour. Another drawback is, of course, its superficial nature. For instance, when used for furniture, if it be touched with a plane the pale-coloured timber is exposed, making the timber look patchy, until, after the lapse of months, the timber becomes of a uniform deep red colour. A slab of the wood which had been seasoned over twenty-five years (having been exhibited at the London International Exhibition of 1862) has a weight which corresponds to 53 lb. 5 oz. per cubic foot.

Following are reports on this timber made by some New South Wales foresters a few years ago: —

Used only in a small way here for staves. (Mr. Forester Martin, Gosford.)

Timber pinkish, sometimes with beautiful figure, hard and tough and very lasting, even on exposure to the weather. The surface of the heart-wood turns quite red after short exposure to the sun. it is not very generally known. I have seen it used for ribs of vessels. I believe it to be excellent for coachbuilding and generally well adapted for cabinet work. (Mr. Forester Rudder, Booral.)

This is a very handsome timber, splits well, and is durable and tough. It makes good staves, axehandles, &c., also palings, shingles, and besides, lasts well in the ground. It takes a very fine polish, and is often used for cabinet work, as it shrinks very little. It makes a good lining for a house. I have been shown a house twenty years old lined with this timber sawn green. The wood has not shrunk, and is still sound. It has a pleasant smell when fresh cut. It is a splendid firewood. It was used by the aboriginals for light spears. (Mr. Forester Deverell, Glen Innes.)

Mr. Walter Hill, of Queensland, says of it:—

The wood is hard, close-grained, durable, and will take a high polish. It is suitable for gunstocks, and a variety of other purposes.


— Height, 40 – 80 feet; diameter, 20– 30 inches, in the Gosford district. On the coast up to 2 feet in diameter; height, up to 60 or 70 feet; very exceptional up to 3 feet in diameter. (Mr. Forester Rudder.)


— Found in the coast and mountain brushes from the Shoalhaven northwards from south to north of Queensland. In New South Wales the most westerly localities known to me, are Boggabri (J.H.M.) and Attunga, 12 miles north-west of Tamworth (R. H. Cambage). These are both west of the Dividing Range; it is usually found cast.

Following, are some notes by foresters: —

Not plentiful in my district; found only in brush forests on Jilliby , Wyong and Mount Cook Creeks. (Mr. Forester Martin, Gosford.)

Habitat cast of Dividing Range, chiefly skirts of brushes, brushes bordering streams and water-courses, sometimes in the open on sandy lands; in a dwarf form more on land on scrubby mountain tops and slopes. (Mr. Forester Rudder, Booral.)

A plentiful scrub wood, Kempsey district. (Mr. Forester Macdonald, Kempsey.)

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As regards Queensland, it is a very widely spread and handsome tree, equally abundant on the coast and in the interior. It is one of the very characteristic trees of the "Brigalow" scrubs (Ten. Woods, Proc. Linn. Soc., N.S.W., vii, 139). It is as common in the dense tropical jungle as in the desert. This feature is quite exceptional, for there is little else common to the two floras.

It extends to numerous islands in the Pacific Ocean, and also to Borneo. Seeman (Flora Vitiensis) speaks of it as "as a very common and variable species, often attaining a considerable height, and yielding useful timber." Found at South Cape (New Guinea). Coll. Rev. Jas. Chalmers (Mueller).


Plate 6: The Red Ash (Alphitonia excelsa, Reissek.) Lithograph by M. Flockton

  • A. Flower.
    • a. Sepal.
    • b. Petal, including the stamen (c).
    • d. Disk, filling the calyx-tube.
    • e. Lobed style.
  • B. Vertical section of flower.
    • a. Sepal.
    • b. Petal, including the stamen (c).
    • d. Disk, filling the calyx-tube.
    • e. Lobed style.
  • C, C1. Different views of stamen.
  • D. Petal, including the stamen.
  • F. Fruit, showing the rim or cupule.
  • F. Fruit dissected to show the two nuts or cocci.
  • G. The nuts or cocci, showing the method of attachment.
  • H, I, J. Views of Seed.

Supplementary Material Added at the End of Volume 2

No. 6. Part II.

Alphitonia excelsa, Reissek.


(Natural Order RHAMNACEÆ.)

Vernacular Names. — See vol. i, p. 39.

Known as "White leaf" at Lismore.

Leaves, &c. — The following letter shows the tree to be a fodder plant: -

I am sending you a packet containing a sprig of leaves and fruit of a tree known locally as "White leaf". Will you kindly tell me what its correct name is? It grows 40 to 50 feet high, and sometimes more; but most that I have seen have been about 20 to 30 feet. The wood is very tough, and used for hammer handles, chisel handles, &, but what makes me ask about it more particularly is, during the late drought, it was found that horses and cattle ate every leaf within reach, and, at Bungawalbin, where there is a regular scrub of it, during the. drought the country was quite clear just as high as animals could reach. Its, qualities in this respect was not suspected locally, before this. It grows on the very poorest sandy country, and seems to have some value as a fodder plant — (A. W. Deane, L.S. Lismore, 30th August, 1904.)

Medicinal properties would appear to be attributed to them by the blacks. Leaves laid on the eyes when sore. Pennefather and Batavia Rivers. Called "an-na." — (North Queensland Ethnography, Bulletin No. 5, Dr. Roth.)

Bark. — See vol. i, p. 39.

The Technological Museum, 23rd May, 1905.

Dear Mr. Maiden, Some time ago a letter from Mr. J. Byrnes, of Macksville, Nambucca River, was received through you, asking for. particulars as to the tanning qualities of a certain bark. The sample was that of Alphitonia excelsa, and an analysis shows it to be a fair sample, containing, about, half the amount of tannin usually occurring in the best wattle barks. The tannin is good, quick in its action, and might be used for local tanning.

On the anhydrous bark the following results were obtained:-

Total extract 23.1 per cent. Non-tannin 5.1 per cent. Tannin 18.0 per cent. absorbed by hide powder.

If these results are calculated in ordinary air-dried bark containing 13 per cent. of moisture, the statement would be:-

Total extract...... 20.1 per cent. Non-tannin ... ... 4.4 per cent. Tannin ....... ...15.7 per cent. absorbed by hide powder.

Yours, &c.,

R. T. BAKER, Curator.

Habitat. — See vol. i, p. 40.

Grows on igneous formation at Milton, the most southerly locality known to me. — (R. H. Cambage.) Occurs at Warialda." — (W. Macdonald, C.P. Inspector.) Tree about 20 feet in length. Wood is of a light colour, and soft. Generally found at the edge of the scrubs. — (Forest Guard W. Dunn, Acacia Creek, Macpherson Range.)

The following note is taken from the Catal. Queensland Forestry Museum, 1904 :-

Fairly plentiful in many parts of Southern Queensland; usually on sandy ridges. A rather small tree. Bark of a pale- grey colour, very hard, and rugged on old trees; but much less so on the younger ones. Often found in thick patches or. scrubs; in such cases they do not grow to a large size, and the tips of the branches are much appreciated by stock. Leaves green on upper surface, and white underneath. Outer wood pale-pink colour, and the inner wood pink-brown; very tough, curly grain. Used for tool handles and bullock-yokes; otherwise not much used. It might be found suitable for turnery and cabinet work.

Supplementary Material Added To Volume 4

No. 6. Part II. See also vol. ii, p. 186.

Alphitonia excelsa, Reissek. THE RED ASH. (Family RHAMNACEÆ.)


Red Ash: Tree in the Botanic Gardens, Sydney. — (Government Printer, photo.)

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