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Medicinal, culinary and unusual botanicals from Australia and around the world

Tabernaemontana orientalis – Iodine Bush (plant)

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This is a fairly widespread and possibly very variable shrub, found in northern Australia, PNG, Melanesia and Indonesia. The plant was collected by Banks and Solander at the Endeavour River and Lookout Point in 1770. Habitats include monsoon forest thickets, stabilized sand dunes or sandstone country by streams and vine thickets on rock outcrops. It appears as a regeneration species after logging operations, and along the edges of rainforest and other areas where it can receive full sun. It is found all over Magnetic Island. The latex was reportedly used by the Aborigines to cure sores and ulcers, hence the name Iodine Bush. In colonial times it found use as a quinine substitute to treat malaria, and was sometimes called ‘bitter bark’. There has been much confusion about the species of this genus, due to variations in different habitats, but it is now reckoned that there are only two species in Queensland, this one and Tabernaemontana pandacaqui (From Some Magnetic Island Plants).

Tabernaemontana is an amalgam of two Latin words, roughly translated as ‘mountain cottage’. I have read that this is the result of putting the name of Bergzabern (a German wine town) into Latin, which would translate the species name as ‘Bergzabern of the East’.

One paper reports the isolation of 37 alkaloids, including 29 known monoterpenoid indole alkaloids, from the aerial parts of Tabernaemontana officinalis (Bing-Jie Zhang, et al. 2015. Cytotoxic indole alkaloids from Tabernaemontana officinalis, Phytochemistry, Volume 120, 2015).

This is an open shrub to small tree, from 1m high in exposed coastal situations to 15m in sheltered moist sites. The stem is erect and branching. Specimens growing in too-bright light tend to have yellow foliage, while as an understorey plant in the forest it has darker green leaves.

Care and Cultivation of Tabernaemontana orientalis

Tabernaemontana orientalis likes a full sun to part shade position with rich soil and good drainage. Really tolerant of dry conditions once established, they will just lose leaves and become dormant. Give regular applications of fertiliser over summer. Beautiful scented windmill flowers typical of Apocyanaceae in spring/summer. A tropical/subtropical plant which would need cold protection south of Brisbane.

1 plant


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