Glochidion ferdinandi

Cheese Tree

Family: Phyllanthaceae

Family: Phyllanthaceae

A medium to large tree, capable of reaching 30 metres but often seen much smaller, both in the bush and in cultivation.

It has a mostly coastal distribution in NSW, extending westwards just into the central and northern tablelands with a disjunct population on the north-western plains / tablelands boundary; growing from as far south as Tuross Head on the south coast, northwards commonly, along the entire coast, into Queensland where it has a patchy distribution to the north of Cairns. It is also found as far west as Carnarvon Gorge National Park. It also occurs in the north of the Northern Territory.

Glochidion spp. have simple and alternate leaves and an entire branch of leaves can be referred to as “pseudo-pinnate” (with pinnate being a term reserved for compound leaves), based on the regular uniform distribution of leaves. In this species, leaves are regularly elliptical, to 10 centimetres in length and to 4 centimetres wide, mid to dark green in colour with a semi-glossy hue, often with purple patches or dots on the upper surface. Plants can be partly deciduous in winter. 

Glochidion spp. belong to a family of plants known for often having unisexual flowers. This species produces male and female flowers, in leaf axils of slightly above the axil, often in groups of 3. Flowers have 6 perianth segments; male flowers with 3 stamens connected to a short column; female flowers with 3 styles that are united; each flower is green-yellow and not overly conspicuous; small to about 1 cm long and very narrow.  

The fruit is much more noticeable. It is a lobed capsule, which looks like a small green pumpkin; before turning shades of white and pink when ripe; about 1.5 cm across. The capsule has radial segments which split open to reveal bright red 0.5 cm seeds from November to April.

In the garden

This is a very hardy plant and can be useful one in the garden. It can be grown as a shade tree or as a pruned shrub.

It is an easily grown pioneer species which can be easily propagated. It is often planted as part of revegetation and other bushland regeneration projects.

The species may colonise disturbed areas and is a fast-growing plant. Plants require ample water to get established but adapt to a wide range of soils; in sun or shade. It can be grown as an indoor plant in a bright position.

This species makes an ideal garden tree even though it is subjected to caterpillar attacks in both in the wild and home garden, as it is a valuable tree in Australia’s ecosystem.

It is not a tree that would be grown for its flowers but the foliage creates generous shade and the fruit are interesting.

At times, large mature trees are seen in parklands across Sydney and other places. Large mature trees can appear like the exotic and weedy camphor-laurel from a distance (both species have a very similar trunk with fine tessellated brown bark), and with a nice broad dome and dense shade.

The fruits are eaten by many Australian native bird species. It also attracts larvae of butterflies.

Glochidion ferdinandi presumably is dependent on leaf-flower moths (Epicephala spp.) for its pollination.

Plants and seeds are available commercially.


From cuttings. Seeds take 1 to 4 months to germinate.

Other information

This species is called Cheese Tree due to the resemblance of the fruit to small segmented cheese wheels. Many people think they appear more like small pumpkins. 

There are two recognised varieties in NSW: 

  • Glochidion ferdinandi var. ferdinandi 
  • and Glochidion ferdinandi var. pubens.

G. ferdinandi var. pubens, is more uncommon and known as the hairy cheese tree. It is smaller, with leaves and fruit finely hairy. It is often seen growing in copses or suckering stands, to 6 metres tall. 

Glochidion is a genus about 300 species, occurring in Madagascar and The Americas, to tropical Asia and the Pacific Islands. Australia has 15 species, occurring in Northern Territory, Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales. New South Wales currently recognises 2 species. 

Glochidion was previously included in the family Euphorbiaceae. 

This species responds readily after fire, often suckering from the bases of burnt stems as well as through the seed bank. 

GlochidionAncient Greek, glochis (γλόχης) a “projecting point” as in the “barb of an arrow” (possibly derived from lochis (λόχης) which means “spear” – referring to the projected and toothed-style of the flowers, of some species.

ferdinandi honours Victorian State Botanist Ferdinand von Mueller (1825-1896).  Note that the specific name is spelled with a single or double “i” by various sources.

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

Wrigley, J.W. & Fagg, M.I. (2013). Australian Native Plants – Propagation, cultivation and use in landscaping. 6th edition. Reed New Holland Publishers, Pty. Ltd. Australia.

Plants of South Eastern New South Wales – Lucidcentral identification/online app                    Glochidion ferdinandi profile page https://apps.lucidcentral.org/rainforest/text/entities/glochidion_ferdinandi.htm

Wikipedia – Glochidion ferdinandi profile page             https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glochidion_ferdinandi

Gardening with Angus – Glochidion ferdinandi profile page https://www.gardeningwithangus.com.au/glochidion-ferdinandi-cheese-tree/

By Dan Clarke and Jeff Howes.