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What is a Coachwood?

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  • Written By: Sonal Panse
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 17 September 2016
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Coachwood or Ceratopetalum apetalum, as it is botanically known, is a hardwood tree from the Cunoniaceae family. The name coachwood comes from the fact that its excellent and smooth-grained wood was once used to manufacture coaches; the wood was also used to make rifle butts, airplane frames, furniture, veneers, linings and carvings, and is still very popular with wood craftsmen. The botanical name of the tree is a combination of the Greek words ceras atos, meaning "antler," and petalon, meaning "petal," a reference to the flower arrangement of the tree. Other names for this tree are scented satinwood and tarwood.

These types of trees are native to the coastal temperate rainforests of eastern Australia, particularly New South Wales and Queensland. The trees can grow both singly and in pure stands, and are usually found in creeks and gullies. They grow in soils formed from sedimentary, metamorphic, rhyolite or basalt rocks. Ceratopetalum trees can range in height from medium-sized, about 50 feet (15.24 m), to very tall, about 132 feet (40.2336 m), and most of them are very long-lived; some existing trees have been around for a couple of centuries.

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The coachwood tree generally has a straight trunk with a rough, gray bark; the bark often shows white patches of lichen. The inside of the bark is pinkish in color, with pale pink, dark pink or black vertical lines. The bark, when broken off, emits a fragrant caramel-like scent; this explains why the tree is known as the scented satinwood. A compound known as coumarin can be extracted from the tree bark.

The leaves of the Ceratopetalum tree are large, dark green and tough in texture. They are lance-shaped and have serrated edges. A distinct feature of the coachwood leaf is the visible bump at its base.

The tree generally flowers in November and the flowers are produced in thick clusters on hairy stalks. The flowers are white to begin with, but begin to turn pink in December. A notable thing about the coachwood flowers is that they do not have any petals. The visible white parts that gradually turn pink are actually the sepals of the flower.

The coachwood fruits that appear next begin to mature between January and February. They are oval in shape and about 0.119 inch (0.30 cm) in diameter. New trees are propagated by sowing the fruit as it is. The seeds can take about 18 days to germinate and produce the seedlings.

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