Shrub or small tree to 6 m high in drier rainforest, on watercourses and on the boundary of open forest. Separate male and female plants. From the coast to the escarpment ranges; north from the Illawarra region NSW. Not found in the very driest of scrubs. In the open it is usually compact, but can be leggy under a canopy.

Branchlets can be dotted with elongated lenticels. Strong sunlight intensifies the red new growth. Leaves holly-like, broad-elliptic to rhombic or obovate, mostly 2-8 cm, 2-5 cm wide, stiff, prominently veined, margins with 2-4 pairs of spine-tipped teeth, smooth; petiole 1-3 mm long. Useful as an understorey plant in rainforest plantings. Grown in gardens for its attractive, holly-like foliage, enjoys well-drained soil, extra nutrients and mulch but can tolerate neglect. Sooty mould can be a problem.

Foliage and fruit. Photo: Robert Whyte

Flowers and name

Flowers are small cream-green axillary racemes, male and female flowers on separate plants from November-December.

Alchornea after Stanesby Alchorne 1727-1800, a collector of British plants; ilicifolia from Latin “ilex” the great scarlet (holly) or Holm oak, Quercus ilex, and “folium” leaf because of the holly-like leaves.

Host plant for the Common Albatross butterfly Appias paulina ega.

Holly-like foliage. Photo: Robert Whyte

Fruit, seed and propagation

Fruit is a green to brown, three lobed capsule around 7 mm in diameter splitting to reveal one seed. Ripe September-November or throughout the year. Strangely hard to propagate from seed, as it self sows easily. This suggests dormancy. Germination takes 3-6 months. Cuttings strike easily. An exceptionally hardy plant, though can be slow growing. Useful as an understory plant in rainforest plantings.

Photo: Robert Whyte

New foliage. Photo: Robert Whyte