Breynia oblongifolia

Coffee Bush

Family: Phyllanthaceae

A single to potentially multi-stemmed shrub to 3 metres tall, often with a broadening vertical spread. 

It is very common in a lot of NSW bushland, occurring along most of the coastal divisions (north of Merimbula), into the central tablelands, central-western and north-western slopes. It extends into Queensland through the entirety of the coast and inland to about 800 km inland in the southern areas. However, plants are also found at Mount Isa and to the Northern Territory border (It is likely the plant also grows in the NT). Its most northern limit is in Papua New Guinea. 

With such a geographic range, this species can show some variability in leaf size and overall form. 

It occurs in a range of habitats from coastal tropical rainforests and coastal beachside sand dune scrub, through to riparian woodlands and cool Eucalypt woodlands and forests. It is found on virtually all soils from sand through to shales and volcanic loams. In some bushland reserves, it can create a dense midstorey usually over small areas. 

Breynia spp. are classed have having simple and alternate leaves. However, the way they are regularly structured results in them being referred to as ‘pseudo-pinnate’ (a term applied to compound leaves). In this species, leaves are elliptical to oblong, 20 to 30 mm long by 10 to 20 mm wide, dark green above and paler below. 

Breynia spp. produce plants that have separate male and female flowers. Male flowers have 3 stamens and 6 perianth parts. Female flowers have 3 styles and 1 ovary. This species has small, green inconspicuous flowers, about 3 mm wide, produced solitarily in leaf axils, in spring and summer.

These are followed by orange or pink berries about 6 mm in diameter that turn glossy-black when fully ripe and are interesting and attractive in their own right. The berry contains two seeds. Berries are toxic if ingested and toxic or irritant to domestic pets.

In the garden

This plant has been described as have little horticultural value. However, this plant supports many different animals and many bird species that feed on leaves, berries and flowers including the Common Grass Yellow Butterfly. So, important from and environmental aspect. Tolerates a wide variety of soils and environments.

It is not a plant grown for its flowers but its foliage and regular hardy structure as a shrub may make a useful garden addition. 

Editor’s notes: I once received some seed of this plant and propagated it without too much trouble. I planted the resulting plants in a sandy garden in southern Sydney and they established nicely. Although plants do not flower conspicuously, these shrubs add a nice foliage contrast. In a later garden, which I now own in the same street, I cut back a plant, almost to ground level, in a sloping sandstone driveway-garden during the process of weeding out large amounts of Fishbone Fern and Japanese Honeysuckle. This shrub has now re-shot and is a very nice addition to the other natives I have planted. It is worth growing for its even foliage and the small dainty fruits. It is incredibly hardy. 


Can be propagated from seeds as well as cuttings. 

Other information

This plant proliferates in disturbed areas and can recolonise cleared sites and can pop up occasionally in undisturbed gardens, the species will spread at the expense of fire-dependent species if fire is withdrawn from an ecosystem used to being burnt. 

Plants regenerate from fire through the seedbank and likely through suckering root-stem stocks. 

Breynia plants are shrubs or small trees that are monoecious (plants have male flowers and female flowers in separate structures on the same plant)

There are 25 species in the world found in Malesia and Australia. Australia: has 4 species, growing in new South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory. There is only this one species occurring in NSW. 

Breynianamed for Jacob Breyne (1637–1697) and his son Johann Philipp Breyne (1680–1764) – who were Polish botanists.

oblongifoliafrom the latin oblongifolius – meaning with oblong leaves, although the leaves are usually regularly oval to elliptic. 

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

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

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

Central QLD Coast Landcare Network – Breynia oblongifolia profile page: https://cqclandcarenetwork.org.au/plants/coffee-bush/

By Jeff Howes. Editing and additional text by Dan Clarke