Polyosma cunninghamii


Family: Escalloniaceae

A tree to 15 metres tall, with a canopy spread to several metres.

It has a coastal and coastal-inland distribution in NSW, growing north from Nelligen-Batemans Bay area, in a patchy distribution northwards to the Queensland border, as far west as Barrington Tops National Park and Armidale-region.

It is found in sub-tropical and warm-temperate rainforest as well as littoral rainforest.

The dark brown bark has wrinkles and vertical ridges.

Polyosma spp. have simple and opposite leaves; sometimes with leaves sub-opposite or whorled. In this species, they are oblanceolate to elliptic, to 9 cm long and 3 cm wide, with an acute to acuminate apex and with strongly toothed margins with the teeth ending in a callus point (moving towards holly-like leaves); with a soft texture, dark glossy green above and with the lower surface much paler.

Polyosma spp. produce flowers in terminal racemes with flowers bisexual and 4-merous with 4-toothed calyx and 4 petals fused into a tube, 4 stamens and 1 carpel. In this species, the racemes are up to 6 cm long, with tubular flowers up to 1 cm long with flowers green to green-cream to white; produced from March to November; reportedly pleasantly fragrant.

The fruit of Polyosma are attractive berries. In this species, berries are black and ovate, to 20 mm long and 10 mm in diameter with longitudinal lines. Fruit matures from March to August, though it can fruit at other times. 

In the garden

This is a tree for which it is said that it should be seen more in cultivation. It could be trialled as a street tree as well as a shade and habitat tree in many gardens.

An ideal dense tree for a well-drained moist and enriched soil in sun or shade. Plants are available commercially. Check with native nurseries for availability.

The fleshy fruit is eaten by various birds including the green catbird and rose crowned fruit dove.

The foliage is attractive. 

It can grow to about 12 metres in cultivation so consider the location.


Germination from fresh seed is slow, taking up to a year. Cuttings works much better.

Other information

This species does not really grow in fire-prone environments and is likely detrimented by fire. It may be able to regenerate from seed after a fire event but may be lost from habitat is fires are too frequent of intense. 

Polyosma is a genus of around 100 species, found from the Himilayas to Australia. Australia has 6 species, all endemic, found in Queensland and NSW. NSW has this one sole species.

Polyosmafrom the Greek poli (πολυ) meaning “many” or “much” and osmi (οσμή) meaning “smell”, referring to the strong fragrance of flowers in this genus.

cunninghamiinamed for Allan Cunningham (1791-1839) –  an English botanist and explorer, primarily known for his travels in Australia to collect plants. He was Australia’s most prolific plant collector of the early 19th Century and named many species.

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

Plants of South Eastern New South Wales – LUCID central identification online website / app – Polyosma cunninghamii profile page https://apps.lucidcentral.org/plants_se_nsw/text/entities/polyosma_cunninghamii.htm

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

Wrigley, J.W. & Fagg, M.I. (2001). Australian Native Plants – Propagation, cultivation and use in landscaping. 4th edition. New Holland Publishers, Pty. Ltd. Australia.

Growing Illawarra Natives – Polyosma cunninghamii profile page https://finder.growingillawarranatives.org/plants/plant/402 

By Dan Clarke and Jeff Howes.