Alectryon tomentosus (SAPINDACEAE); Hairy alectryon, Hairy Bird's Eye

Image: Foliage and fruit
Image: Fruit
Image: Foliage showing leaflets smaller towards base
Image: New Growth (often pinky brown)

Image: Foliage and fruit

Alectryon tomentosus
Alectryon tomentosus - foliage & flower - BRAIN 2003
Small to medium tree to 15m in all types of rainforest. The largest trees can grow to 18 m with a spreading, fairly open canopy. Can be fast-growing in fertile, moist soils.

Flowers are creamy pink to reddish, small and not showy, May to August.

Tomentosus from Latin tomentosus thickly and evenly covered with hair in reference to the hairy leaves and young shoots.

Image: FruitBack to top

Alectryon tomentosus
PHOTO: Mark Crocker
The fruit is a brown hairy capsule, 1-3 lobed, opening to reveal the red aril and shiny black (seeds). Ripe June - Nov. (It is one of the few rainforest trees to fruit heavily in Winter.) One common name, hairy bird's eye, refers to the shiny black seed exposed In the fleshy red aril. .

The large seed are carried varying distances by birds, but mostly propagate in the vicinity of a large specimen. The adult trees do not supress germination - young trees can be quite thick around the adults. It is a prolific dry rainforest pioneer, extremely hardy and can withstand dry periods and neglect. It commonly sprouts in suburban Brisbane gardens.

The fleshy aril is quite pleasant tasting, though there is not much of it. The seeds are cyanide collectors, so will be toxic. They are unlikely to be dangerous if swallowed whole, but could be if chewed (crushed). Caution is advised.

Image: Foliage showing leaflets smaller towards baseBack to top

Alectryon tomentosus
The diminishing size of the leaflets towards the base of the leaf is characteristic. PHOTO: Robert Whyte
Compound leaves 7-20 cm long with leaflets at the base much smaller than those at the end. Leaflets 4-8, mostly 3-12 cm long, 1-4 cm wide, usually regularly toothed, upper surface sometimes smooth but more often finely hairy, lower surface usually densely hairy.

Propagation is quite easy but not reliable (about 25%). Seed (freshy fruit, very ripe) ready to pick in late winter early spring. Leaving the seed on the tree till the last moment is likely to aid germination. Attractive species worthy of more extensive planting for ornamental purposes. In some years can be affected by galls, causing pimply bumps. It is a characteristic tree of disturbed dry rainforest and much more suitable than other more water hungry plants.

Image: New Growth (often pinky brown)Back to top

Alectryon tomentosus
Reddish new growth PHOTO: Robert Whyte
Food for Green Catbird feeds and various "blue" butterflies. The tree is host to the Leptocoris tagalicus bug. Carroll-Loye research shows that with only slight changes the bug could shift its focus to the introduced environmental weed, Cardiospermum grandiflorum (Balloon Vine).