Alphitonia excelsa

Red Ash, Soap tree, Leatherjacket, Coopers Wood

Family: Rhamnaceae

A common tree, growing to 25 m and 5 to 10 m wide in dry eucalypt forest, as well as wet sclerophyll forests and rainforests in New South Wales, Queensland, Northern Territory and the north-eastern tip of Western Australia.

In NSW, it is found north of Mt Dromedary, extending up the south coast and then into the tablelands and western slopes, into Queensland. It is found in very moist, as well as, very dry and also found on a wide range of soils. It has a smooth grey trunk.

The alternate leaves are to 14 cm long and to 5 cm wide and are dark glossy green above and silvery with fine hairs underneath, elliptic to ovate or oblong in shape.

Flowers are produced in large numbers in axillary and terminal cymes, to about 15 cm long by 3 cm wide; flowers are greenish-white to yellow, less than 1 cm across, somewhat star-shaped, occurring in late autumn and early winter.

Fruits are drupe-like (fleshy peach-like), 10 mm in diameter, black in colour and containing two seeds. They also have a mealy material within.

In the garden

Quick growing and useful as an ornamental tree and as a fodder plant for both sheep and cattle. It is also used in bush regeneration.

It has a nice broad form overall. In dry areas naturally, the canopy is often sparse but early pruning of young plants in cultivation can likely increase canopy density.

It will need some room to spread out. The foliage is attractive and will lend to rainforest and tropical gardens as well as any medium to large landscapes.

Its wood is useful for tool handles, cabinet work and building.

Useful for creating a dense screen perhaps or covering an undesired area. Likely a useful species if the soil is rocky, poor or the location is densely shady.

There is a large grandiose specimen growing outside the main building at the Hunter Region Botanic Gardens at Heatherbrae.


From seed.

Other information

This species can resemble species of the closely related Pomaderris. The fruits are a good giveaway to distinguish plants as well as the nature of the venation on the leaves.

Will regenerate from seed bank after fire.

Alphitonia – from Ancient Greek “alphiton” (ἄλφιτον) meaning “barley-meal”, referring to the mealy red covering around the hard cells in the fruit;
excelsa – from Latin “excelsa” meaning “high”, because of its tall habit.

Not considered at risk in the wild – very common.


By Jeff Howes