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(Cunonia family)


• Medicinal / Folk-medicinal aspects: •
• Adverse effects: Davidson's plums (Davidsonia F.Muell. spp.) bear bristly trichomes that may irritate the skin. Coachwood and white cherry, derived from Ceratopetalum apetalum D.Don and Schizomeria ovata D.Don respectively, have been reported to sensitise tradesmen working with these timbers, but properly documented case reports are lacking. Several species are known to hyperaccumulate nickel and/or chromium when growing in soils rich in these elements and are therefore potential elicitors of nickel and/or chromate allergy. •
• Veterinary aspects: •

Mabberley (2008) regards the Cunoniaceae as comprising 340 species of trees, shrubs, and climbers in 27 genera. The family now includes the genus Davidsonia F.Muell., which has hitherto been regarded as belonging in its own distinct family, namely the Davidsoniaceae (Harden & Williams 2000). Members of the Cunoniaceae are found mainly in the Southern Hemisphere, and in particular in Australia, New Guinea, and New Caledonia. The principal genus is Weinmannia L., which accounts for 155 species. Older publications refer some of these plants to the Saxifragaceae.

Some species are to be found in cultivation as ornamentals (Hunt 1968/70). Perhaps the best known are Acrophyllum australe Hoogl., Bauera rubioides Andrews (common name: river rose), Caldcluvia paniculata D.Don (common name: brown alder), and Callicoma serratifolia Andrews (common names: black wattle or silver-leaf butterwood). Several species provide useful timber:

Caldcluvia australiensis Hoogl. — provides Rose Alder
[syn. Betchea australiensis Schltr.]
Caldcluvia paniculata D.Don — provides Brown Alder
[syn. Weinmannia paniculata Cav.]
Platylophus trifoliatus D.Don — provides White Alder
Pseudoweinmannia lachnocarpa Engl. — provides Mararie or Marara
[syn. Weinmannia lachnocarpa F.Muell.]
Schizomeria ovata D.Don — provides White Cherry or White Birch
Weinmannia racemosa L.f. — provides Kamahi or Towai or Tawhero
Weinmannia silvicola L.f. — provides Towai or Tawhero 

Ceratopetalum apetalum D.Don

The wood of this tree, which grows naturally in warm temperate rainforests of eastern Australia, has reportedly caused dermatitis in tradesmen (Mair 1968).

Davidsonia jerseyana G.J.Harden & J.B.Williams
[syn. Davidsonia pruriens F.Muell. var. jerseyana F.Muell. ex Bailey]
Davidson's Plum

This tree occurs naturally but not abundantly in subtropical rainforests of south-eastern Queeensland and in north-eastern New South Wales, Australia. The tree bears bristly trichomes that can irritate the skin on contact (Harden & Williams 2000).

Davidsonia pruriens F.Muell.
[syn. Davidsonia pungens hort.]
Davidson's Plum, Davidsonian Plum, Queensland Itch Tree

This tree is widespread in the tropical rainforests of north-eastern Queeensland, Australia but is also widely cultivated as an ornamental tree and for its edible fruit. The tree bears bristly trichomes that can irritate the skin on contact (Harden & Williams 2000). The specific epithet is derived from the Latin prurire = to itch.

Geissois Labill.

This genus comprises about 18 species found in Australia, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, and the Fiji Islands (Mabberley 2008).

Following upon an earlier observation that the New Caledonian species Geissois pruinosa was a hyperaccumulator of nickel (Jaffré & Schmid 1974, Brooks 1980), Jaffre et al. (1979) analysed herbarium samples of 17 species for nickel, cobalt, chromium, and iron content. Six New Caledonian species were found to be hyperaccumulators of nickel (containing in excess of 1000 ppm dry weight):

Geissois intermedia Vieill.
Geissois magnifica Baker f.
Geissois montana Vieill.
Geissois pruinosa Brongn. & Gris
Geissois racemosa Labill.
Geissois trifoliata Guillaumin 

All species analysed were found to contain a higher than normal chromium content. The contact sensitising capacity of nickel and chromium and their salts is well documented (Malten et al. 1976, Cronin 1980, Spruit et al. 1980, Fowler 1990, Uter et al. 2016) but it remains to be determined whether the nickel or chromium compounds in these plants present a dermatological hazard.

Pancheria engleriana Schltr.

This New Caledonian species has been reported to be a hyperaccumulator of nickel, a level of 6300 ppm dry weight having been recorded (Brooks 1998). The contact sensitising capacity of nickel and its salts is well documented (Malten et al. 1976, Cronin 1980, Spruit et al. 1980, Fowler 1990, Uter et al. 2016) but it remains to be determined whether the nickel compounds in this plant present a dermatological hazard.

Schizomeria ovata D.Don
White Cherry, Snowberry, Crab Apple, White Birch

The wood of this tree, which grows naturally in Queensland and New South Wales, Australia, has reportedly caused dermatitis in tradesmen (Mair 1968).


  • Brooks RR (1980) Accumulation of nickel by terrestrial plants. In: Nriagu JO (Ed.) Nickel in the Environment (Environmental Science and Technology), pp. 407-430. New York: John Wiley & Sons [WorldCat]
  • Brooks RR (1998) Geobotany and hyperaccumulators. In: Brooks RR (Ed.) Plants that Hyperaccumulate Heavy Metals: Their role in phytoremediation, microbiology, archaeology, mineral exploration and phytomining, pp. 55-94. Wallingford: CAB International [WorldCat]
  • Cronin E (1980) Contact Dermatitis. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone [WorldCat]
  • Fowler JF (1990) Allergic contact dermatitis to metals. American Journal of Contact Dermatitis 1(4): 212-223 [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • Harden GJ, Williams JB (2000) A revision of Davidsonia (Cunoniaceae). Telopea 8(4): 413-428 [url]
  • Hunt P (Ed.) (1968/70) The Marshall Cavendish Encyclopedia of Gardening. London: Marshall Cavendish [WorldCat]
  • Jaffré T, Schmid M (1974) Accumulation du nickel par une Rubiacée de Nouvelle-Calédonie, Psychotria douarrei (G. Beauvisage) Däniker [Accumulation of nickel by a rubiaceous plant of New Caledonia, Psychotria douarrei (G. Beauvisage) Däniker]. Comptes Rendus Hebdomadaires des Séances de l'Académie des Sciences, Série D 278(13): 1727-1730
  • Jaffre T, Brooks RR, Trow JM (1979) Hyperaccumulation of nickel by Geissois species. Plant and Soil 51(1): 157-162 [doi] [url]
  • Mabberley DJ (2008) Mabberley's Plant-Book. A portable dictionary of plants, their classification and uses, 3rd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press [WorldCat]
  • Mair K (1968) Personal communication to Mitchell JC from herbarium records. In: Mitchell J, Rook A (1979). Botanical Dermatology. Plants and plant products injurious to the skin. Vancouver: Greengrass, pp. 239-240 [WorldCat]
  • Malten KE, Nater JP, van Ketel WG (1976) Patch Testing Guidelines. Nijmegen: Dekker & van de Vegt [WorldCat]
  • Spruit D, Bongaarts PJM, Malten KE (1980) Dermatological effects of nickel. In: Nriagu JO (Ed.) Nickel in the Environment, pp. 601-609. New York: John Wiley [WorldCat]
  • Uter W, Larese Filon F, Rui F, Balato A, Wilkinson M, Kręcisz B, Chomiczewska-Skora D, Kieć-Świerczyńska M, Schuttelaar M-LA, Frosch PJ, Bircher AJ (2016) ESSCA results with nickel, cobalt and chromium, 2009–2012. Contact Dermatitis 75(2): 117-121 [doi] [url] [url-2] [pmid]

Richard J. Schmidt

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