Acmena smithii (MYRTACEAE) Lilly Pilly

Plants to Plant

A small to medium tree to 20 m. Grows on most soils in sub tropical rainforest, often along watercourses, throughout Queensland, Victoria and NSW. Also known as Syzygium smithii. Bushy dark green foliage tree with pinky bronze new growth. Leaves are opposite with varying shape from lanceolate to elliptical, oil dots present, and pointed at the tip. Fruit are mauve, pink, purple or white berries. Fruit has one large seed. Also know as Arrow-leaf Lilly Pilly, Coast Satin Ash, Coochin-Coochin, Scrub Mahogany, Red Apple, Watergum, White Monkey Apple. The fruit is occasionally made into jams, jellies, or drinks, but the tree is usually planted for ornamental purposes or to attract birds. Acmena from Greek Acmenae the nymphs of Venus who were very beautiful, referring to the attractive flowers and fruits. A second source says that Acmena was a nymph dedicated to Venus. This derivation seems the most likely. Finally another source says that the name is derived from the Latin Acmena one of the names of the goddess Venus. Smithii after Sir James Edward Smith (1759-1828). Born in Norwich, England he trained in medicine and botany and was a lecturer in botany at Guy’s Hospital, London, 1788-1796. Purchased Linnaeus’ collections in 1784. Founded the Linnean Society in 1788 and was President until 1828. Published widely on Australian plants, of particular note being his contributions to John White’s Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales (1790), his own A Specimen of the Botany of New Holland (1793-1795) and 3348 articles in Rees’s Cyclopaedia (1802-1820).
Photo: Robert Whyte


Flowers are cream blossoms in terminal sprays in summer. The flowers are very attractive and covered with bees when they bloom. A narrow-leaved form is often found in the flood plain areas of creeks and rivers where it becomes twisted and gnarled from inundation and battering by debris. Its function in these environments is much the same as Waterhousea floribunda.
Flowers closeup. Photo: Robert Whyte


Fresh seed taken from January to June. Soak for 24 hours to kill insect larvae. Sow directly. Germination in 1-8 weeks. A popular garden plant, one of the larger trees commonly sold as Lilly Pilly in nurseries, coping with wet soils, cold conditions, sun or shade and light frost. Seed germinates in 6-8 weeks, cuttings strike well.
New foliage. Photo: Robert Whyte

Host Plant

Host plant for Common Red-eye or Eastern Dusk-flat Chaetocneme beata and Eastern or Bronze Flat Netrocoryne repanda repanda butterflies.Host plant for the Brown Looper Pholodes sinistraria. It is a true looper, with only two pairs of prolegs. When disturbed, it sways slowly from side to side. It pupates without a cocoon under the soil, taking up to a year to metamorphose. The pupa is dark brown and has a length of about 1.5 cm. It develops into a moth with a fairly wide wingspan (male 5 cm, female 6 cm). The fruit is eaten by many species of birds.
Eastern Dusk-flat. Photo: BOIC website