Guettarda speciosa, with common names beach gardenia, sea randa, or zebra wood, is a species of shrub in the family Rubiaceae found in coastal habitats in tropical areas around the Pacific Ocean, including the coastline of central and northern Queensland and Northern Territory in Australia, and Pacific Islands, including Micronesia, French Polynesia and Fiji, Malaysia and Indonesia and the east coast of Africa. It reaches 6 m in height, has fragrant white flowers, and large green prominently-veined leaves. It grows in sand above the high tide mark.
Taxonomy and naming
It was originally described by Carl Linnaeus. The genus was named in honour of the 18th century French naturalist Jean-Étienne Guettard, while the specific epithet is derived from the Latin speciosus 'showy'.
It is a perennial shrub or small tree 2–6 m (6.6–19.7 ft) tall by 1–3 m (3.3–9.8 ft) wide with smooth creamy grey bark. The large oval-shaped leaves are 15–23 cm (6–9 in) long by 10–18 cm (4–7 in) wide. Dark green and smooth above with prominent paler veins, they are finely hairy underneath. Flowering is from October to May, the fragrant white flowers are 2.5–3 cm (1–1 1⁄4 in) long with 4–9 lobes. These are followed by sweet-smelling globular hard fruit, measuring 2.5 cm–2.8 cm × 2.2 cm–2.5 cm (0.98 in–1.10 in × 0.87 in–0.98 in), which mature September to March.
Distribution and habitat
Guettarda speciosa is found in coastal habitats in tropical areas around the Pacific Ocean, including the coastline of central and northern Queensland and Northern Territory in Australia, and Pacific Islands, including Micronesia, French Polynesia and Fiji, Malaysia and Indonesia and the east coast of Africa. As its name suggests, the beach gardenia grows on beaches and sandy places above the high tide level.
Use by indigenous cultures
The large leaves were used in various ways by the indigenous people of northern Australia; they could hold food, and when heated, they were given to relieve headaches and aches in limbs. The stems could be used to make Macassan pipes. The flowers were used to scent coconut oil on the Cook Islands, and the wood for dwellings and canoes.
A very useful plant for seaside planting in tropical climates, it needs a sunny aspect and well-drained soil. It has proven difficult to propagate, as this must be done by seed which may take months to germinate.
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