Elaeocarpus reticulatus

Blueberry Ash

Family: Elaeocarpaceae

A large shrub to small tree, usually narrow in habit, to 8 metres tall by about 3 metres wide.

It grows along the entirety of the coast of NSW, into Queensland (to about Rockhampton), eastern Victoria and the islands of Bass Strait. 

It typically grows on sandy soils including sandstone substrate, as well as enriched rainforest soils, growing in dry and wet sclerophyll woodlands and forests, as well as rainforests. 

Elaeocarpus spp. have leaves appearing simple and alternate (technically they are compound leaves where all leaflets have been reduced through time leaving one leaflet, i.e., 1-foliolate or uni-foliolate). In  this species, they are leathery with conspicuous reticulate venation, lanceolate to broadly-ellitpic to 15 cm long and 3 cm wide, usually with shallow-toothed margins.

Elaeocarpus produce axillary racemes, often on older wood. In this species, axillary racemes to 8 cm long. Flowers are white (sometimes pinkish) with fringed petals and which hang upside down or pendulous; each flower about 10 mm across, creating an attractive display. 

The fruit is a drupe (small peach-like or olive-like), round and bright blue, with one hard seed in the centre. 

In the garden

Author’s notes:

This is a plant that should be growing in everyone’s garden! This is a popular, fast growing plant that has been in cultivation for well over 70 years. The common name is Blueberry Ash, because it produces many small bright blue circular fruits (which are actually drupes – not berries) about one centimetre in diameter after flowering.

I planted my first Elaeocarpus reticulatus plant over twenty years ago in my garden in the northern Sydney suburb of Westleigh and have found it to be a hardy plant. My original plant has white flowers and I have now planted more of a pink flowering form that you will find in nurseries under the name of ‘Prima Donna’. Both flowering forms can grow to about eight metres high and about three metres wide in a suburban garden, but usually less. In November, the plant is covered with a mass of fringed bell shaped flowers – a very attractive sight.

My plants are mulched and are growing in a thin layer of topsoil over a clay sub soil. I have found they respond well to native plant fertiliser and in dry periods I give them some additional watering especially when young. They flower more freely in full sun than in the shade and are tolerant of different soil types provide the drainage is good.

I recommend them for a tall screen plant. If you select one with a single leading shoot they will not grow very wide (about three metres or so in diameter) so they can be planted quite close together. If necessary they can be pruned to maintain them at a lower height although this tends to spoil its attractive shape. I have noticed that many local councils are now using this plant as a street tree.


Semi hardwood cuttings works best in late summer. 

Can be propagated by seed but some abrasion or fermentation is needed. Eg: The editor has heard that feeding them to chooks and harvesting the manure may be one method. Seed can take 2 years to germinate. 

Other information

There is a cultivar available with pink flowers named ‘Prima Donna’. It flowers very nicely in Autumn. 

This species regenerates after fire but may be slow to respond. It likely does so through seed and suckering / coppicing shoots from root zones.

Elaeocarpus is a large genus of about 350 species, occurring from Madagascar through India and Japan, South-East Asia, Australia, the Pacific Islands and Hawaii. Australia has about 30 species, occurring in all eastern states and the Northern Territory. NSW currently has 9 species. 1 species is endemic to Lord Howe Island. 

Elaeocarpus – referring to Greek Elaio (ελαιο) meaning “olive-tree” and “olive-oil” and carpos (Καρπός) meaning fruit – capturing the olive-fruit like appearance of species in this genus. 

reticulatus – Latin for “reticulated” – referring to the obvious conspicuous network of reticulate (net-like) veins in the leaves.

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

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

Australian National Herbarium – Elaeocarpus reticulatus profile page        https://www.anbg.gov.au/gnp/interns-2002/elaeocarpus-reticulatus.html 

Gardening with Angus – Elaeocarpus reticulatus ‘Prima Donna’ profile page https://www.gardeningwithangus.com.au/elaeocarpus-reticulatus-prima-donna-blueberry-ash/ 

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.