Ceratopetalum apetalum

Coachwood / Scented Satinwood / Tarwood

Family: Cunoniaceae

A tree growing up to 40 metres (often seen much smaller) with a broad-spreading crown. Sometimes multi-trunked.

It is found naturally in NSW and Queensland, along the coast and tablelands-fringes. It grows as far south as Batemans Bay, as far west as Lithgow and extends up the coast into Queensland as far north as Kroombit Tops National park (east of Biloela).

(Amazingly – its close relative, Callicoma serratifolia, has the exact same natural distribution as well as similar habitat).

It is found in warm temperate rainforest where it can dominate the canopy, often on creeklines, as well as wet sclerophyll forest and can sometimes be found in drier woodlands, growing as a midstorey species. It is often found on Hawkesbury Sandstone creeklines in Sydney in steep gullies, as well as lower richer soils.

The bark is very smooth, grey to light grey in colour often with lighter patches of lichen which makes for a useful identification feature. The bark is fragrant when bruised. 

Ceratopetalum spp. are considered to have compound leaves, arranged in an opposite fashion. In this species, however, leaves appear simple but are in fact uni-foliolate (a condition where a compound leaf has evolved to only having one leaflet). These are dark green above with a finely serrated margin; are up to 12 cm in length and to 5 cm in width, and paler-green underneath. At the junction of the lamina and petiole, there is a noticeable swelling (which may be the vestigial remains of the other leaflets). This swelling is another useful identification feature. 

Ceratopetalum spp. have flowers arranged in terminal cyme-like clusters. The 4 to 5 sepals are the main part of the flower with the 4 to 5 petals very small or absent. In this species, inflorescences are to 12 cm long by 6 cm wide with flowers with 5 conspicuous sepals arranged in a star-shape, to 15 mm across, with sepals starting off cream, and enlarging and changing to red as the fruit develops in the centre of the flower. Flowers typically produced in November-December and turn red and are shed in February.

The fruit is a nut, 1-seeded and not overly large.

In the garden

This would be a very nice addition to any garden although can get potentially large and trunks can be up to 20 cm or more across. Has very attractive colouring to the smooth bark. 

A very useful shade tree if a healthy specimen can be grown. It is a hardy tree on an enriched soil with adequate moisture. Plant in a semi-shaded spot. Great addition to shady gardens and rainforest gardens.

This species is well-recognised as a day roost habitat for the threatened Powerful Owl.

Flowers provide resources for a wide range of invertebrates. Fruit (nuts) are consumed by parrots.

If you have room, consider planting a Coachwood in your garden. Unlike eucalypts, they don’t drop leaves and are reasonably slow growing


Propagate from seeds (nuts).

Other information

The common name of Coachwood comes from its use in the building of coaches. It is reported that courtrooms in The High Court of Australia are beautifully and completely furnished with coachwood timber.

It is one of the very few rainforest species that flourishes in the gullies of Sydney bushland and is closely related to Sydney Christmas Bush (Ceratopetalum gummiferum) and the Black Wattle (Callicoma serratifolia).

This species grows in bushfire-prone environments and likely regenerates from suckering stems and stem-buds as well as the seed-bank.

Ceratopetalum is a genus of 6 species, occurring in Australia and New Guinea. Five species are endmic to Australia. NSW currently recognises 2 species.

Ceratopetalum – from two Greek words kerato (κέρατo) meaning “horned” and petalo (πέταλο) meaning “petals” – referring to some species having petals resembling stag’s horns. (Aligns with names such as “Triceratops”).

apetalum – Latin – “without petals” – capturing the petal-less flowers.

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

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

Australian Plants Society – Sutherland – Coastal Plants of the Royal National Park – CD Ceratopetalum apetalum profile page https://sutherland.austplants.com.au/rnp/pl106.htm

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 Jeff Howes. Editing and additional text by Dan Clarke