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Is Murraya a Native?

YES and NO….

by Steve Cullum

This is a question that is often asked and the answer is yes and no.

The Murraya much used in south east Queensland as a hedging plant is typically called Murraya paniculata ‘exotica’ although the ‘exotica’ is rarely seen on nursery labels. This is the exotic (ie foreign) form which is fairly robust and grows pretty quickly. It is used widely throughout SE Asia, where it is a native species, for bonsai and you will regularly see very impressive examples in their bonsai exhibitions.

Northern Australia does have a native form of Murraya. Sometimes you will read that it is called Murraya paniculata, or Murrays paniculate ‘ovatifoliolata’ and more often now as Murraya ovatifoliolata.

So little wonder at the confusion. I’m not sure where the moving feast of taxonomy stands at the moment on what it should be called.

The exotic form is regarded as an environmental weed in Qld and NSW as it seeds readily and makes an attractive fruit for birds.

Apparently, you can tell the difference visually only by the leaf size. All Murraya have a compound leaf with 3 to 10 leaflets. The exotic form leaflets are a little larger at 3 to 7 cm long and narrow-elliptic in shape compared to the native ovatifoliolata leaflets at 1.5 to 4 cm and ovate shaped.

The photo shows a Murraya ‘exotica’ leaf from my garden. The leaflet length is 4 cm, so arguably could be either but I’m sure it will be the exotic form. The other smaller leaf in the picture is the dwarf form Mini Murraya. The second picture is of an amazing dwarf form Murraya penjing bonsai from Taiwan where both the larger leafed and mini form are much used for bonsai. We should be using it too more than we do, and no sorry it’s not a native either.

Getting back to the native form, M. ovatifoliolata, it is apparently a slower grower, commonly found in dry rainforest environments.

This is a photo of the leaf formation of M. ovatifoliolata so there is unlikely to be any confusion when looking at the leaves of the different forms. It’s easy to see why it has the name.

After having done this little bit of research and realising it is another dry rainforest native species, I really do need to acquire a few! I see that Burringbar native nursery have them on their retail listing. I wonder if they are the real thing or another misidentification?

Happy hunting,

Steve Cullum