NZ Myrtaceae Key - Online edition

Syzygium australe (J.C.Wendl. ex Link) B.Hyland

Common Names

brush cherry, creek satinash, purple monkey apple, scrub cherry


Australia: in coastal rainforest of Queensland and New South Wales.


In New Zealand cultivated for hedges and shelter; occasionally naturalised from nearby planted specimens, particularly in North Auckland. Able to establish in existing forest under low light conditions. Cultivars with smaller growth habits and smaller leaves that may be brightly coloured and/or variegated have become popular for garden landscaping.


Present throughout the North Island and upper South Island of New Zealand.

Distinguishing Features

  • Shrub or small tree, usually to 18 m tall, with pale, smooth or flaky bark.
  • Leafy twigs 4-angled to shortly 4-winged, wings joining above each node to produce a small pocket.
  • Leaves opposite, oval, narrowed to both ends, glossy and hairless, lower surface paler, to 100 mm long and 30 mm wide.
  • Leaves aromatic when crushed.
  • Flowers mostly clustered at or near branch ends, white.
  • Stamens longer than petals, 15–20 mm long.
  • Fruit berry-like, oblong to ovate with the broadest part towards the apex, crimson to crimson-purple, usually glossy, to 25 mm long and 15 mm wide; large seeds, usually solitary.


Tree usually to 18 m tall, but height may be to 35 m with a trunk diameter of 60 cm; branchlets pendulous.

Bark and Stem/Trunk

Bark pale, smooth to flaky. Ribbons and adventitious roots absent. Young leafy twigs 4-angled to shortly 4-winged, wings joining above each node to produce a small pocket.


Leaves opposite, oval, apex short-pointed, base wedge-shaped, widest at the middle or above the middle, 40–100 mm long, 10–30 mm wide, slightly wavy, hairless and glossy, lower surface paler; side veins numerous, parallel, vein inside margin generally visible; oil glands scattered, often faint; leaf stalks 3–10 mm long. Leaves aromatic when crushed.


Flowers mostly clustered at or near ends of branches, clusters of 3–25 flowers, cluster stalks to ± 40 mm long. Individual flower stalks shorter, slender, angular. Calyx lobes 2–4 mm long, broadly triangular to ovate, sometimes dark red, persistent in fruit. Petals 4–5, free and spreading, 4–6 mm long, white. Stamens 5–20 mm long, white, longer than petals; style equal in length to longest stamens. Main flowering period: summer to mid-winter.


Fruit berry-like, oblong to ovate with the broadest part towards the apex, 10–25 mm long, 7–15 mm wide, crimson to crimson-purple, usually glossy. Seed large, usually solitary, embryo solitary with smooth cotyledons, seed leaves green.

Similar Species

In New Zealand, S. paniculatum is sometimes sold erroneously as S. australe. The two can be distinguished even when young from the leafy twigs, which in S. paniculatum have smooth internodes above and below the nodes, whereas S. australe has its leafy twigs generally 4-angled or shortly 4-winged, pairs of wings running down from each leaf stalk but joining and forming a pocket or hump above the next lower pair of leaves. S. australe appears to be a lot less common in cultivation than S. paniculatum and, compared with the latter, wild seedlings are uncommon in S. australe.

The Australian species of Syzygium in New Zealand have some similarities in foliage, flowers and fruit. S. australe is commonly confused with S. paniculatum, and S. oleosum, the blue lilly pilly. However, S. australe, brush cherry, has a paler trunk. Fruit of S. australe are oblong to ovate, broadest towards the apex, crimson to crimson-purple, usually glossy; S. paniculatum has globose to ovate fruit that are usually bright magenta but may occasionally be white, pink or purple; fruit of S. floribundum are globular with a pronounced apical rim ± 1-2 mm high (retained calyx), green maturing to pink or reddish; fruit of S. smithii are whitish pink to pale purple, and globular with an apical depression; S. oleosum, blue lilly pilly, also present occasionally in New Zealand, has leaves to 120 mm long with a long, narrow, tapered tip, numerous oil glands that are strongly translucent, and globular fruit that are red when young, changing to purplish blue when ripe, with a small apical cavity similar to that of S. smithii.


Syzygium australe is susceptible to myrtle rust (caused by Austropuccinia psidii).

Syzygium australe is listed as a DOC Environmental Weed and a Regional Pest Management Strategy species in New Zealand.

Syzygium is a genus of more than 1,200 species in Africa, Asia, Malesia, Australasia, New Caledonia and the Pacific Islands.

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