Citronella moorei

Churnwood, Citronella, Soapy Box, Silky Beech and Corduroy

Family: Cardiopteridaceae

A large tree to 40 m tall – easily identified in the rainforest by the extraordinary twisting and crooked trunk.

It is found from the Clyde River (Batemans Bay), New South Wales, northwards in disjunct occurrences, to Mossman near Port Douglas in northern Queensland. It has a purely coastal distribution.

It grows on volcanic soils or rich alluvial soils in tropical, sub-tropical and warm temperate rainforests. Common in sheltered valleys and slopes.

The crown is dark green and dense.

Citronella spp. have simple and alternate leaves. In this species, they are to 10 cm long and to 6 cm wide, with entire margins, drawn out to a blunt point, glossy above and paler below.

Citronella have 5-merous flowers. In this species, they are white to creamy-green and are unisexual, in narrow panicles up to 15 cm long. Flowers about 1 cm across and 1.5 cm long, somewhat tubular with the petal-lobes spreading out at the tip; flowering from May to September

The fruit is a black drupe which is globose, to about 20 mm long.The outer part moist and fleshy, the inner part hard. Fruit ripen December to June.

In the garden

A large tree and so unlikely to be planted in small gardens. However, it is a great addition to any larger property or larger rainforest garden. Makes a nice specimen tree in parklands and is reported to be hardy. Is slow growing, but will reach 20 m in cultivation. Consider planting in appropriate locations. Has attractive foliage and panicles of flowers.

The largest known Citronella tree was estimated by A.G. Floyd at 50 metres tall with trunk diameter of 2 metres across. It was by the Allyn River, below the Barrington Tops region of New South Wales. The great tree fell in the mid-1990s.

Seeds are eaten by green catbird, topknot pigeon and wompoo fruit dove.

Sapwood is susceptible to borers.


From seed – removal of the fleshy aril is advised. Germination of sown fresh seed is slow, beginning after about six months and being complete after 8 to 14 months yielding a 100% success rate.

Other information

Likely grows in habitats where fire is not an issue. May not respond well to fires.

Citronella is a genus of about 20 species – occurring in the tropical-America and the Pacific Islands as well as Australia. Australia has 2 endemic species, one of which occurs in NSW (this species) with a second species endemic to Queensland.   

Citronella – information can be found that this is a variant of a Spanish name of a particular tree species of this genus. ‘Citronelle’ is also French for “lemon-odor bearing” (however, it is not known if this applies here). 

moorei – in honour of Charles Moore (1820-1905), NSW Government Botanist and Director of the Sydney Botanic Gardens (1848-96), who has many species named after him.

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

NSW Flora Online (PlantNET) – Citronella moorei profile page

Australian Tropical Rainforest Plants – Citronella moorei profile page https://apps.lucidcentral.org/rainforest/text/entities/citronella_moorei.htm

Wikipedia – Citronella moorei profile page                                  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citronella_moorei

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.