Planchonella australis

Black Apple, Wild Plum, Yellow Buttonwood, Black Plum, Yellow Bulletwood

Family: Sapotaceae

A tree capable of reaching 30 metres tall, with a flanged and fluted trunk up to 1.2 m in diameter, with rough brown bark. It is usually much smaller in cultivation. 

It has an almost all-coastal and coastal inland distribution in NSW, found northwards from Gerringong (near Kiama) on the south coast, extending northwards in a patchy distribution to the Queensland border, as far west as Kars Springs near Merriwa, and areas such as New England National Park. It extends into Queensland, along the coast and coastal inland, to as far north as south of Gladstone. 

It is found in most types of warmer rainforest, including warm temperate, littoral and subtropical as well as inland eucalypt-dry rainforest.

The young stems and leaf petioles exude a white milky sap.

Planchonella spp. have simple and alternate leaves, or, leaves clustered at the ends of stems. In this species, leaves are ovate to obovate or elliptic, to 16 cm long and 5 cm wide, thick and leathery, with the upper surface dark green and shiny to dull and the lower surface shiny and paler green; with pinnate venation that is distinct and raised on both surfaces.

Planchonella spp. have 5-merous flowers with 5 sepals, petals and stamens and 1 carpel (bisexual); produced either solitarily or in small-clusters in leaf axils as well as ramiflorous (where flowers are produced on older bare wood lower than the foliage). In this species, flowers are solitary or in clusters of 2 to 6; each to about 10 mm across, green to white in colour; usually appearing in spring. Flowers can exhibit protogyny (females first) where the female parts of the flowers are receptive with the male parts ripening later. 

The fruit of Planchonella spp. is a berry. In this species, they are conspicuous, purplish to blue-black in colour, to 65 mm long by 20 mm wide, containing up to 5 brown and shiny seeds to 20 mm long; ripening from September to November; reportedly edible. 

In the garden

This plant is fast growing and easy to grow and adapts readily to cultivation. It may be too large for some gardens but is reportedly slow growing and usually only grows to 10 metres in most cultivated situations. 

It is best planted on an enriched soil with reliable moisture. It prefers good drainage, as well as moisture, and extra fertilising. 

It is tolerant of moderate frosts. 

It can be used in rainforest revegetation projects.

The fruit is reportedly attractive to a range of birds and native mammals. 

The fruit of the black apple is edible out-of-hand. It has a sweet and fibrous flesh and tastes like a combination of plum and custard apple. However, it is also favoured by maggots, which are often found inside. 

A very attractive rainforest plant to grow. 

It may be subject to scale attack. These can be controlled with white oil. 


By seed or cuttings. This plant is available commercially.

Other information

First Nations People of Australia have been reported to have eaten the fruit.

The tree was originally harvested for its timber by colonialists for its hard, attractive, yellow-patterned wood that is used for carving.

This species can likely regenerate from seed after fire. It likely grows in environments where fire seldom occurs. 

Planchonella is a genus of about 100 species, found Melanesia, Australia, Polynesia and Micronesia as well as Hawaii and South America. Australia has 9 species, occurring in New South Wales, Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia. NSW currently has 5 species.

Planchonella  Named in honour of Jules Émile Planchon (1823-1888) a French botanist. Planchon published more than 2000 plant species and is credited with helping save the French vineyards from a destructive American aphid. 

australisLatin meaning southern – referring to the southern distribution of this species.

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

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

Growing Illawarra Natives – Planchonella australis profile page https://finder.growingillawarranatives.org/plants/plant/382 

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 and Dan Clarke