Melicytus dentatus

Tree Violet

Family: Violaceae

An erect to spreading shrub, growing to around 5 metres high and up to 5 or so metres across (sometimes a small tree); sometimes stunted or prostrate in alpine areas, with prickly stems due to long axillary spines.

It is highly-similar in some cases to the native Bursaria spinosa – in foliage and form (and the two migth be confused in some cases).

It has a large natural geographic distribution, growing virtually across the entirety of the coast, tablelands and into the western slopes (much sparser here), and not common on the north coast subdivision; as far west as areas such as Albury, Dubbo and Orange, Warrumbungle National Park and Mt Kaputar National Park. It only just creeps into Queensland, to the west of Wallangarra and south-west of Stanthorpe. It is common in Victoria growing across most of the eastern half of the state and into the south-western quarter, just into South Australia, north of Mt Gambier. It is found in Tasmania, mostly around the Launceston-region. It is a weed in New Zealand.  

It grows in a wide variety of habitats, usually in open dry sclerophyll forests and woodlands, as well as wet sclerophyll forest and rainforest margins in some cases, as well as around lakes and swamps; on a wide range of soils from very sandy to alluvium to clay and volcanic.  

Melicytus spp. have simple and alternate leaves. In this species, leaves are sometimes clustered, to about 60 mm long by up to 11 mm wide; often seen about 40 mm long by 5 mm wide; oblanceolate to elliptic / narrow-elliptic to narrow-obovate, dark to mid-green with lower surface paler and with margins serrate to dentate; juvenile leaves often larger and more-toothed. 

Melicytus spp. produce flowers in leaf axils with flowers 5-merous with 5 sepals and petals; flowers often functionally unisexual with bisexual flowers having either ineffective male or female parts and the contrary functioning parts; with 5 stamens and 1 carpel. In this species, 1 or 2 flowers are produced per leaf axil, with a cylindrical corolla (campanulate) made of somewhat fleshy petals, to about 7 mm long; pale yellow to lemon yellow or off-white in colour and pendulous; both male and female flowers have a pleasant scent; flowers occurring from August to October. Reportedly, some plants are all female or male;  

The fruit of Melicytus spp. is a berry. In this species, it is to 8 mm long and wide, green in the early stages and then maturing to blue-grey to dark mauve-grey or white with a waxy coating; very conspicuous. 

In the garden

This plant is known to be cultivated successfully and is a very nice shrub with many benefits.

It is worth growing its beautiful heady scent that attracts small nectar-feeding birds and butterflies. The following berries are eaten by lizards, rosellas and currawongs.

In a garden situation, the growth varies depending on moisture levels. Ideally, it prefers a well-drained moist soil in sun of partial shade. Can be grown as a hedging plant as well.

Can become invasive in ideal conditions outside its natural habitat.

Berries are reported to be edible and somewhat-tasty.

Seeds and plants are available commercially.

This can be a very useful plant for providing dense shrubbery for small birds. Prune periodically to encourage a dense shape and form.

Check with local nurseries for availability. 


From seed, need to soak for 24 hours to break dormancy. Seed are slow to germinate reportedly taking more than 3 months. Can also be grown from cuttings.

Other information

This species was known for a long time as Hymenanthera dentata and plants and seed may still be sold under this name.

This species grows in fire-prone environments and can likely regenerate from suckering stems as well as from the seed bank. 

Melicytus is a genus of flowering trees or shrubs. There are 15 species occurring in the World found in, Solomon Islands. Eastern Australia., New Zealand, Norfolk Island and Fiji. Australia has 3 species with NSW currently having 3 species. 

Melicytusfrom Greek meli (μέλι) meaning “honey” and kytos (κύτος) referring to a number of hollow vessels in Ancient Greek – referring to the nectaries of the stamens of the flowers – bearing nectar.

dentatusLatin meaning “with teeth” (dentate) – capturing the toothed-margins of the leaves. 

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

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

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 – page 433 for Melicytus dentatus

Plants of South Eastern New South Wales – (LUCID Plant Identification Online webpage/app) – Melicytus dentatus profile page: https://apps.lucidcentral.org/plants_se_nsw/text/entities/melicytus_dentatus.htm

By Dan Clarke and Jeff Howes.