This article is extracted from Yuruga Newsletter
Vol 11 No 1 (January 2003)
The focus of this article is for gardeners in tropical Australia.
However, the basic principles apply for throughout Australia
with minor modifications for local conditions.
A fantastic group of plants for tropical gardens are the Lilly-pillies. Most Lilly-pillies fall into the scientific grouping Syzygium (pronounced ‘sigh-sidge-ee-um’), but some belong to the groups Acmena, Acmenosperma and Waterhousea (2009 update – they are all now Syzygiums).
There are more than 70 different Lilly-pillies occurring in our tropical rainforests, and we have about 50 different varieties for sale in the nursery most of the time. With so many different species, there is a wide range of shapes, sizes and colours to choose from, and they all make fantastic plants in cultivation.
Lilly-pillies are also often called ‘Satin Ash’, ‘Cherry’ and ‘Apple’ – these are all common names for the same group of plants, as you will see if you scan down the Syzygiums in our stock list. The name ‘Lilly-pilly’ or ‘Cherry’ is usually used in the garden context, ‘Satin Ash’ in the timber context, and ‘Apple’ for species that were important foods for the Aboriginal people.
Most of the Lilly-pillies have lovely glossy foliage and a dense bushy form, giving a tropical look to a garden. Many of them have spectacular new growth. Some of them are quite large trees such as the River Cherry Syzygium tierneyanum and Bamaga Satin Ash Syzygium bamagense, and these make very good screens and windbreaks on larger blocks. For a screen on a smaller block, nothing beats the Creek Satin Ash Syzygium australe and the Lilly-pilly Acmena smithii.
All the Lilly-pillies are very ornamental, but especially the Tinkling Satin Ash Syzygium alatoramulum, Rex Satin Ash Syzygium apodophyllum, the Cherry Satin Ash Syzygium luehmannii and the Roly-poly Satin Ash Waterhousea unipunctata which have exceptionally pretty foliage.
All the Lilly-pillies have lovely fluffy flowers, but nothing beats the huge dark red fluffy balls of the Powder-puff Lilly-pilly Syzygium wilsonii.
The fruits of most of the Lilly-pillies are edible, and many species make very nice jams and jellies. The most popular Lilly-pilly for jam-making is the Cherry Satin Ash Syzygium luehmannii, but our favourites are the Fibrous Satin Ash Syzygium fibrosum and the native Water Cherry Syzygium aqueum.
Of particular interest to many of our customers are some of the rare and unusual Lilly-pillies. The Silver Satin Ash Syzygium argyropedicum is a rare Lilly-pilly from Cape York Peninsula, from the Silver Plains region east of Coen (in fact ‘argyro’ means ‘silver’, referring to Silver Plains). This plant is only ever found on old sand dunes in the wild, yet we have found it to be hardy and very adaptable in cultivation – in fact some of our best specimens are growing in pure clay! Try one in your garden – the red new growth is stunning!
Also from Cape York Peninsula, but this time from the Laura area, is another very rare Lilly-pilly Syzygium rubrimolle or Laura Apple. The large plum-coloured fruit have crisp white flesh and are actually quite like an apple in taste and texture.
Most Lilly-pillies grow very well in (and in fact, prefer) full-sun. However, the beautiful shrub Syzygium wilsonii is fantastic for a shady spot, and the Lockerbie Satin Ash Syzygium branderhorstii (from the Lockerbie Scrub at the tip of Cape York) is a beautiful slender understorey plant which bears masses of fluffy white flowers all the way down its trunk – pure magic!
We could go on and on about the Lilly-pillies they are a fantastic group of plants for tropical gardens, so perhaps you should just browse through the nursery for yourselves. Most species are very easy to grow, but some are a bit touchy, so take our retail staff expert advice on the right ones for your garden. Every garden in the tropics should have not one Lilly-pilly but …. as many as you can fit!