Mount Blackwood Holly story

The Mount Blackwood Holly (Graptophyllum ilicifolium) was adopted as the floral emblem of the Mackay Branch of Society for Growing Australian Plants (SGAP) in 1992 and the Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens in 2003.


Mount Blackwood Holly is a large rainforest under storey shrub that grows in granitic soils with dark, shiny green, holly-like leaves. Clusters of deep pink, tubular flowers are borne in the leaf axils between mid winter and early spring.

It does best in a semi-shaded, well-drained, well-mulched, moist position, but will also take full sun if constant moisture is applied. Trim lightly after flowering to maintain a compact shape. An excellent hedge specimen.


Cuttings provide early flowering specimens, but the plant regularly grows from seed. The seed capsules form after flowering in late spring, early summer, ripen and explode flinging the seeds some distance. Plants reared from seed appear to be a little spinier and take an extra year or so to flower.


The story

Not long after the Mackay Branch of the Society for Growing Australian Plants was formed, members were alerted to the fact that the rare plant had originally been collected from Mount Blackwood north of Mackay in the 1800s.

It wasn't until early in 1984, when member David Champion, was beginning geological fieldwork in the Mount Blackwood & Mount Jukes areas that the following description was obtained from the Queensland Herbarium.

Graptophyllum ilicifolium is a shrub up to five metres. It has opposite leaves which have spinose margins. The leaves are 7.5-10cm long, many veins and very glossy. Flowers are red in short clusters, about 2-2.5cm long.

The type collection; ie, the collection from which the species was first described, was collected by Nernst from Mount Blackwood, and is now in the Melbourne Herbarium. Additional material from this collection is also held by the Kew Gardens Herbarium in London.

Late in the last century, a collection by Nugent is recorded from Port Mackay but there had been no further official recordings, although the plant was well known to some of the local property owners. David often encountered holly-leaved plants on early field trips, but their leaves were always alternate. It was 25 April 1984, that the first plants that met the description were sighted. Unfortunately, there were neither flowers nor fruit, but there was a marked similarity to the Queensland Holly (Graptophyllum spinigerum). Both species display a conspicuous difference in the size of each leaf pair.

On subsequent field trips, this plant was encountered in increasing numbers at several sites all within the rainforest but it was not until mid-July, while mapping on a property on Mt Adder; that a few plants were observed carrying deep pink buds and a few dried fruit. With the consent of the property owner, collections were made and positive identification was obtained from the Queensland Herbarium.

Since then, the Mount Blackwood Holly has been propagated and trialled by the SGAP Mackay Branch members and friends. It was offered to the general public for the first time at the Australian Plant Spectacular in 1991.