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Persoonia levis

Broad-leaf Geebung, Geebung

Family: Proteaceae

A large shrub to about 5 metres high. It is found from the Macleay River catchment near Grafton, on the mid-north coast of New South Wales, to the Cann River in far eastern Victoria. It has a mainly coastal distribution but reaches as far west from Sydney to Lithgow and Kandos as well, as west of Lake Burragorang, and can be found west of Port Macquarie towards Walcha.

It grows on sandstone and derived sandy soils, as well as enriched laterites, in heath and dry sclerophyll woodland and forest.

It is one of the most easily recognisable persoonias.

The bark is flaky, soft and dark grey to black; papery and with red tones underneath (almost like crepe paper).

The large green leaves are to 14 cm long and 8 cm wide, oblong or sickle-shaped (falcate). The asymmetrical shape helps distinguish the species from P. lanceolata. The new growth is bright green and leaves can sometimes be confused for wattle-phyllodes.

Persoonia flowers are typically produced either solitarily, or, in a raceme-like arrangement which can grow on into a leafy shoot.

The flower structure is very similar to genera such as Hakea and Grevillea; a perianth of 4 tepals (either sepals or petals) is at the base, 4 stamens which rise above the perianth (the anther bases can be fused to the tepals or free), surrounding one carpel (female part); almost always yellow in colour.

In this species, flowers are arranged either solitarily in leaf axils or in small racemes which grow on into a leafy shoot. Each flower is about 1.5 cm across by 2 cm long, appearing in summer and autumn.

The drupe is smooth, fleshy, mid-green and more or less round, measuring 1 cm by 1 cm in diameter. It reportedly contains two seeds. The drupe is juicy but stringy when unripe, and the seeds and skin are inedible.

In the garden

Despite its horticultural appeal, P. levis is rare in cultivation as it is very hard to propagate, either by seed or cuttings. It could be used very nicely as a contrast shrub with the leaves and the bark both appealing features. Not a lot of cultivation information is currently available.

It would do well on a sandy free-draining soil in full sun to dappled sun.

The long-tongue bee, Leioproctus carinatifrons, is a pollinator of the flowers.

The fruit are eaten by swamp wallabies, kangaroos, possums and currawongs.

Propagation

Generally difficult from seed or cuttings and seed needs to be scarified and sown as soon as fresh. Propagation of Persoonia species is becoming more common in nurseries and working with the seeds has attracted many amateur attempts; but with large amounts of resulting frustration.

There is advice that the outer fruit coating (the exocarp) needs to be clipped to open it up, and then the seed put into a solution containing the plant propagation hormone GA (Giberellic Acid) for several hours to days. This will trigger the seed to germinate.

Other techniques include putting fruits in a bag with potting mix for 12 months and storing in a glass house / propagation shed, then clean and sand the fruits and then sow, with germination taking another 6 months.

Other information

Persoonia is a genus of about one hundred species all of which are endemic to Australia.

It is reported that the fruit can be eaten raw or cooked. Succulent but astringent. The fruit has a sweet fibrous pulp that is fixed to one large seed, it tastes somewhat like sweet cotton wool and is relished by Australian First Nations People.

The term geebung is derived from the Dharug language word geebung, while the Wiradjuri term was jibbong.

P. levis is adapted to a fire-prone environment with plants resprouting from epicormic buds beneath their thick bark after bushfires. Regeneration also takes place after fire by a ground-stored seed bank. At times, they can appear to have survived fire unscathed and appear as bright green shrubs in a blackened landscape.

This species hybridises occasionally with Persoonia acerosa, Persoonia lanceolata, Persoonia linearis, Persoonia mollis subsp. ledifolia, Persoonia myrtilloides subsp. myrtilloides and Persoonia oxycoccoides and many intermediates have been collected.

Persoonia – named after Christiaan Hendrik Persoon (1761-1836), a South African botanist and mycologist who is most well-known for describing mushroom species. The genus was named in his honours by James Edward Smith (1759-1828), an English botanist and founder of the Linnean Society.
levis – Latin, reportedly meaning “smooth” but it also means “light” and “mild” and may refer to the colour of the foliage (light-green), or, the hairless nature.

Not considered at risk in the wild.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persoonia
https://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Persoonia~levis https://apps.lucidcentral.org/plants_se_nsw/text/entities/persoonia_levis.htm
Robinson, L. Field Guide to the Native Plants of Sydney. Kangaroo Press 1991.

By Jeff Howes, Rhonda Daniels