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What is Acmena?

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  • Written By: Sonal Panse
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2016
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The word Acmena means plentiful in Greek and is used to refer to a group of shrubs and trees from the myrtle family Myrtaceae. These are food plants related to guavas and are found in the tropical and temperate rainforests of Australia, Malaysia and Indonesia. There are 15 species of Acmena, and the Australian species are commonly known as lilly pillies.

One of the well-known lilly pillies is the Acmena ingens. A large, rainforest tree that can grow up to 131 feet (39.92 m) in height, the Acmena ingens has a gray or light brown trunk that is smooth and cylindrical; the bark may start flaking later as the tree grows. The leaves are thin and elliptical and placed in opposite pairs on the stem. The tree produces white flowers from November to December, and these then develop into large and fleshy red berries. The fruit, which acts as a bird magnet and can be consumed by humans too, each contain a single seed. New plants can be developed from these seeds and from stem cuttings of the plant.

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Another lilly pilly, the Acmena smithii, grows as a small shrub or small tree. It can attain a height of about 32 feet (9.75 m), and may have an equal or larger spread. The dark green and shiny leaves are oval or lance-shaped, and the plant produces white flowers from October to December. The berries are soft and attractive-looking — either white, pink or purple in color — which ripen from May to August. Birds descend in droves on this fruit tree too, and the berries can be made into juice and jellies or eaten fresh.

The Myrtaceae shrubs, such as Acmena smithii, are excellent for growing as a hedge. They need to be pruned twice a year to keep them the requisite shape and to make them develop a thick foliage. These plants can also be propagated through seeds and cuttings. An important thing to keep in mind about seed propagation here is that the seeds do not have a long shelf life and need to be planted immediately when they are fresh. To make the seeds germinate quickly, they may be soaked in water for 24 hours before they are planted.

Lilly pilly shrubs and trees require a moist, well-drained soil, and it will help if they are regularly fertilized and mulched. Mulching, which is done to help the plant retain moisture, involves adding leaves and bark around and a little distance away from the trunk. These shrubs and trees can do well in partial shade conditions, but are not able to withstand frost.

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