Peanut tree

Peanut tree

If you are looking for a, small rainforest tree with unique features, the peanut tree (Sterculia quadrifida) could fit the bill. This tree is also known as the red-fruited kurrajong after its distinctive orange-red seed capsule which splits open when ripe in summer to reveal up to ten satiny black seeds. Growing to about 5 – 10m in height in gardens, this bushy tree has ovate to heart shaped leaves, each supported on a slender stalk. Although the greenish-yellow flowers in spring are inconspicuous, they have a delightful lemon perfume which attracts butterflies and birds.

Found naturally in rainforests, vine thickets and gallery forests of coastal Queensland, this is a hardy species that is drought tolerant and grows in most well-drained soils in full sun. It is fast growing and benefits from watering when young and good mulching. This species utilises a fungal association (mycorrhizae) to obtain their mineral requirements in nutrient deficient soils. The peanut tree is a useful accent, filling or screening plant, can be grown in pots and makes an interesting bonsai specimen. In cooler climates it can be deciduous.

Once the thin, bitter, black coating has been removed, the seed is delicious eaten raw or cooked. As its name suggests, the flavour is similar to peanuts. The unripe fruit produce a gelatinous substance which is also edible as is the root of young plants. Although the leaves are inedible, indigenous people crushed them to use as a poultice on wounds and stings. An infusion made from the bark was used to treat eye infections. The bark is fibrous and was used to produce strong twine, baskets, nets and fishing lines.

Sterculia quadrifida, Peanut Tree
Sterculia quadrifida. Photograph by Neil Murphy.
Sterculia quadrifida, Peanut Tree
Sterculia quadrifida. Photograph by Neil Murphy.

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