Maclura cochinchinensis (MORACEAE) Cockspur Thorn

Plants to Plant

A woody climber or straggling shrub. Can be rampant, throwing out long-arched stems of new growth. Cut stems release a somewhat milky latex. Common in dry rainforest, subtropical rainforest and along scrubby watercourses. Spines 0.5–2.5 cm long. This plant may live hundreds of years (see image at bottom of page). Useful as nesting habitat for small birds which eat the fruit. In Australia, occurs from Cape York Peninsula in North Queensland south to Milton, NSW.

Photo: Robert Whyte

Leaves and Fruit

Leaves oblong to elliptic, mostly 3–8 cm long with a short acute apex, not hairy. Male inflorescence (flowering part) 6–8 mm in diameter, flowers more or less sessile (clasped to the stem), peduncle (flower stalk) 2–6 mm long. Edible fleshy yellow-orange fruits are juicy, pleasant and sweet. Propagate from seed, germinates easily and reliably within a few weeks.
Photo: Robert Whyte

Juvenile Leaves Smaller

The juvenile leaves are much smaller and in some cases from a distance this plant looks a bit like Orange Thorn Pittosporum multiflorum when it is covered with small leaves. This picture shows a mixture of smaller leaves and larger ones.

Photo: Robert Whyte

Orange Fruit Close-up

A useful Lantana sp. substitute. It may be able to be hedged in some places to protect areas of remnant or revegetating rainforest. This vine is often intertwined with undersirables and damage can easily occur when weeding. It can be dangerous if not cut back when working an area. Despite its somewhat punishing thorns and aggressive habit, this plant would be a benefit as a component of all Enoggera revegetation even though it is a relatively recent plant to become established here. Recent, in this sense, referring to geological time. It is not a Gondwanaland plant of ancient lineage like other spiny plants such as Carissa. Its thorns evolved to protect itself from the large mammals of China and Asia.

Photo: Robert Whyte

Green Fruit Close-up

Maclura after William Maclure, an American geologist; cochinchinensis from Latin ensis, indicating origin or place and Cochin China, a region of South Vietnam referring to its first being recorded there. Var. bancroftii is a cultivated variant with variegated leaves.

Photo: Robert Whyte


In reference to chemical properties, Bunyapraphatsara N, Dechsree S, Yoosook C, Herunsalee A and Panpisutchai Y at theDepartment of Pharmacognosy, Mahidol University, Bangkok investigated the powerful anti-herpes simplex virus (HSV) activity of Maclura cochinchinensis in “Anti-herpes simplex virus component isolated from Maclura cochinchinensis.”

Photo: Robert Whyte

Ancient Maclura Vine

This Maclura vine on the bank of Fish Creek at The Gap is thought to be many hundreds of years old. The photo shows the vine’s trunk holding up a long-dead tree in the foreground before climbing an even more ancient Aphananthe Philippinensis Rough-leaved Elm.

Photo: Anne Jones