Sometimes a plant can be so common in your field of view that it’s easy to miss its significance to ecosystems. It can be so much a part of the landscape and so self-sustaining that it can be forgotten in favour of all the rare and threatened plants and those things that are hard to grow; and so it is with your common, run- of-the-mill Homalanthus populifolius!

Homalanthus populifolius (previously called Homalanthus nutans or Omalanthus populifolius) has had a few name changes over the last few decades (just to keep us on our toes) and is a member of the Euphorbiaceae family, a very large Family of plants spread across the globe. It is dioecious – having separate male and female plants.

fruit and red heart shapped leaf
Bleeding Heart leaves and a flower spike (header), fruit (left), and a distinctive red heart-shaped leaf (right).

This species is one of those ridiculously fast growing plants that kicks starts ecosystem change by colonising open ground, whether that be an opening in the forest, along roadsides, disturbed edges, and at our place just about anywhere and everywhere. Favoured germination conditions are open ground with high light levels and reasonable moisture holding capacity in the soil. From seedling to maturity and fruiting could be as little as 18-24 months. In open conditions they develop into small trees up to 5-7 metres, but I have seen a few spectacular specimens topping 10 metres in lowland rainforest.

As for kick starting ecosystem change, within 24 months you can have a deep leaf litter providing shelter and habitat for macro-invertebrates and all those critters that eat them. It is a tree that is often as wide as tall, providing shade and humidity for secondary rainforest plants to recruit. The fruit of Homalanthus populifolius is highly sort after by birds, particularly the Brown Cuckoo Dove that readily spreads seed.

I love Homalanthus, it’s hard to imagine a rainforest planting being successful without them. They are our ultimate rainforest pioneer species and well worth planting – that is if they aren’t popping up by themselves!

Spencer Shaw Land for Wildlife member Owner, Brush Turkey Enterprises Reesville, Sunshine Coast

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