Acmena smithii

Lilly Pilly, Midjuburi (Cadigal)

Family: Myrtaceae

An attractive shrub or tree-myrtle, reaching 30 metres tall.

It grows along most of the entire coast of NSW, extending into the tablelands and central and northern western slopes. Extends in Qld to the far north, and Victoria (mainly along the coast).

It is a common tree in dry and wet sclerophyll forest, usually in sheltered positions near creeklines, as well as rainforest.

In much southern NSW rainforest, it dominates along with Ceratopetalum apetalum (Coachwood) and Doryphora sassafras (Sassafras). It can also be found in vegetation like Blue Gum High Forest in northern Sydney (where it can be a very large tree) and can also be found in coastal heath and shrubland on sandstone to shale soils, along drainage lines or moist areas, usually as a smaller plant.

It has a general lilly-pilly appearance. Can spread to 10 m wide or more.

The bark is usually smooth or finely-textured and light brown.

The leaves are opposite and glossy, ranging from broad ovate to lanceolate, about 11 cm long and 5 cm wide, with a prominent drip tip. The large oil glands can be seen with a hand lens.

The flowers are produced in terminal panicles which are very showy. The staminate flowers are cream/white in colour but not overly large, yet they are produced in large numbers, about 5mm long and 3 mm wide.

Acmena has a berry which is white to purple and resembles a very small apple. Somewhat palatable.

In the garden

A very hardy tree with an attractive canopy and overall form. Relatively easy to grow, although many Myrtaceae trees can take a while to establish and grow. But this is balanced by trees being very long-lived.

It will provide dense shade. Needs some room to grow as it will spread out. Expect a 15 to 20 m tree over time in a garden.

Drought tolerant once established. Prune to encourage a desired shape and denser foliage. They can get leggy if not pruned.

There is a compact/dwarf form available with very narrow and shorter leaves known as Acmena smithii var. minor. There are cultivars such as ‘Sunrise’ and ‘Cherry Surprise’ with really dark red new growth.

Likes a well-drained soil with some enrichment. Pleasant smelling foliage and attractive flowers. It also has reddish/bronze new growth which is attractive.

Not really known to be troubled by pests and diseases and it is resistant to the psyllid that other lilly pillies are troubled by.


Propagation from seed or soft-wood cuttings.

Other information

See references for cultivars available.
This species is referred to by many now as Syzygium smithii after a scientific reclassification which results in a larger Syzygium group. Please note that NSW Herbarium does not currently agree with this reclassification and is retaining Acmena smithii.

This species can regenerate from seed bank after fire as well as branch shoots and suckering/coppicing stems/trunks.

Acmena is a genus of about 15 species, occurring in Australia and Malesia. Australia has 7 species (3 in NSW), occurring also in Queensland, Victoria and Northern Territory. 

Acmena – named after Acmenes (Greek) – a specific nymph (or fairy) from Greek mythology. Perhaps referring to the sacredness of the myrtle to Venus.

smithii – named in honour of James Edward Smith (1759 – 1828), English botanist and founder of the Linnaean Society.

This species is not considered to be at risk of extinction in the wild. 

NSW Flora Online (PlantNET) – Acmena smithii profile page                    https://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Acmena~smithii

Gardening with Angus – Acmena smithii profile page            https://www.gardeningwithangus.com.au/acmena-smithii-lilly-pilly/

Garden Clinic – Lilly Pilly Lowdown                                                                https://www.gardenclinic.com.au/how-to-grow-article/lilly-pilly-lowdown

Wrigley, J.W. & Fagg, M.I. (2001). Australian Native Plants – Propagation, cultivation and use in landscaping. 4th edition. New Holland Publishers, Pty. Ltd. Australia.

By Dan Clarke