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Castanospermum australe - A.Cunn.&C.Fraser. ex Hook.                
Common Name Moreton Bay Chestnut
Family Fabaceae or Leguminosae
Known Hazards The immature seed is poisonous, though mature seeds are harmless[167, 240]. Another report says that the raw seed is poisonous and needs treatment to render it edible[193].
Habitats Rainforests and on the banks of creeks[144], usually in good rich moist soils[167].
Range Australia - New South Wales, Queensland.
Edibility Rating  
Medicinal Rating  
Half Hardy Moist Soil Full sun


Physical Characteristics       
 icon of manicon of cone
Castanospermum australe is an evergreen Tree growing to 18 m (59ft) by 8 m (26ft).
It is hardy to zone (UK) 9. It is in leaf 12-Jan It is in flower from Sep to October. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Birds.It can fix Nitrogen.

USDA hardiness zone : 8-11

Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist soil.

Castanospermum australe Moreton Bay Chestnut
Castanospermum australe Moreton Bay Chestnut
Woodland Garden Canopy; South Wall. By. West Wall. By.
Edible Uses                                         
Edible Parts: Seed.
Edible Uses:

Seed - cooked[1, 46, 61, 105]. The fresh raw seed contains high levels of saponins[238] and can be harmful[34, 63]. The cooked seed tastes like a sweet chestnut[2]. It probably requires considerable leeching before it is safe to eat[144]. The Australian aborigines finely sliced the seeds and soaked them in running water for 10 days before roasting them and grinding them into a powder[193]. This powder could be stored for later use[193]. The seeds are about 3 - 4.5cm wide and are carried in pods 10 - 25cm long and containing 3 - 5 seeds[193, 260].
Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Astringent;  Miscellany.

The seed yields compounds called castanospermine that are under investigation as HIV inhibitors and might be useful in the treatment of AIDS[200, 238, 260]. The seedpods are astringent[240].
Other Uses
Miscellany;  Wood.

The seeds have a high saponin content[238]. Although the report does not elaborate, the saponins could probably be used as a soap substitute[K]. Wood - durable, resists decay, hard, heavy, polishes well, has a high resistance to the passage of electric current. Used in construction, cabinet making, carving etc[61, 144, 156, 167].
Cultivation details                                         
Requires a very well-drained[260] but moist high-grade soil and a very sunny position when grown in areas cooler than its natural climate[167, 200]. The plant only tolerates short-lived light frosts[200]. One report says that it tolerates temperatures down to about -5°c in its native range but is less hardy elsewhere[200] whilst another report says that it succeeds in areas that are cooler than its natural range[167]. A third report says that it succeeds outdoors in south Cornwall[1]. The crushed leaves smell like cucumbers[193]. Flowers are produced on the old wood[260]. The flowers are rich in nectar and are pollinated by parrots in the wild[260]. This species has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria, these bacteria form nodules on the roots and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Some of this nitrogen is utilized by the growing plant but some can also be used by other plants growing nearby[200].
Seed - we have no details on this species but would recommend sowing it in a greenhouse as soon as it is ripe (if you can get hold of ripe seed!). Pre-soak stored seed for 24 hours in warm water and sow in a greenhouse. Prick out the seedlings into individual deep pots as soon as they are large enough to handle. Grow them on for at least the first winter in a greenhouse before planting out in the summer. Give the plants some protection from winter cold for their first year or two outdoors.
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Expert comment                                         
A.Cunn.&C.Fraser. ex Hook.
Botanical References                                         
Links / References                                         

  [K] Ken Fern Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.

[1]F. Chittendon. RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956
Comprehensive listing of species and how to grow them. Somewhat outdated, it has been replaces in 1992 by a new dictionary (see [200]).
[2]Hedrick. U. P. Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World.
Lots of entries, quite a lot of information in most entries and references.
[34]Harrison. S. Wallis. M. Masefield. G. The Oxford Book of Food Plants.
Good drawings of some of the more common food plants from around the world. Not much information though.
[46]Uphof. J. C. Th. Dictionary of Economic Plants.
An excellent and very comprehensive guide but it only gives very short descriptions of the uses without any details of how to utilize the plants. Not for the casual reader.
[61]Usher. G. A Dictionary of Plants Used by Man.
Forget the sexist title, this is one of the best books on the subject. Lists a very extensive range of useful plants from around the world with very brief details of the uses. Not for the casual reader.
[63]Howes. F. N. Nuts.
Rather old but still a masterpiece. Has sections on tropical and temperate plants with edible nuts plus a section on nut plants in Britain. Very readable.
[105]Tanaka. T. Tanaka's Cyclopaedia of Edible Plants of the World.
The most comprehensive guide to edible plants I've come across. Only the briefest entry for each species, though, and some of the entries are more than a little dubious. Not for the casual reader.
[144]Cribb. A. B. and J. W. Wild Food in Australia.
A very good pocket guide.
[156]Cribb. A. B. and J. W. Useful Wild Plants in Australia.
A very readable book.
[167]Holliday. I. and Hill. R. A Field Guide to Australian Trees.
A well illustrated and very readable book, but it does not contain much information for the plant project.
[193]Low. T. Wild Food Plants of Australia.
Well presented, clear information and good photographs. An interesting read for the casual reader as well as the enthusiast
[200]Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
[238]Bown. D. Encyclopaedia of Herbs and their Uses.
A very well presented and informative book on herbs from around the globe. Plenty in it for both the casual reader and the serious student. Just one main quibble is the silly way of having two separate entries for each plant.
[240]Chopra. R. N., Nayar. S. L. and Chopra. I. C. Glossary of Indian Medicinal Plants (Including the Supplement).
Very terse details of medicinal uses of plants with a wide range of references and details of research into the plants chemistry. Not for the casual reader.
[260]Phillips. R. & Rix. M. Conservatory and Indoor Plants Volumes 1 & 2
Excellent photos of over 1,100 species and cultivars with habits and cultivation details plus a few plant uses. Many species are too tender for outdoors in Britain though there are many that can be grown outside.

Readers comment                                         
Elizabeth H.
cathy Wed Sep 24 07:19:34 2003
I live in Melbourne, Australia - this tree is in my back yard - it flowers each year at Christmas. The flowers are a beautiful orange waxy tubular flower- very showy and very tropical. It survives our cold winters very well. We let the seed pods fall and every year several self propagate. I have always been wary about eating the chestnut like seeds as there are conflicting reports as to whether they are poisonous. It is a messy tree, leaves falling in spring and flowers in summer ( a carpet of orange) but well worth it. It has soft wood and is easy to prune. Ours is quite small - 5-6 metres great for kids to climb in because of its smooth bark.
Elizabeth H.
Annette Mon Aug 1 01:17:26 2005
The website below provides comprehensive information about this species. It is also an excellent site for finding information about other Australian species.

Link: Australian Government - Department of the Environment and Heritage

Elizabeth H.
serega Thu Dec 15 2005
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Elizabeth H.
Daniela Wed May 10 2006
This plant has some more medicinal uses: The alkaloid it contains inhibits the enzyme sucrase, and thereby blocks digestion of sugar. It has potential to treat diabetes and obesity.
Elizabeth H.
Helene Bonavita Fri Feb 15 2008
I live in Uruguay, South America, where there are some very few of these trees. But they are also selfpropagated in our region, since our climate is quite similar than the Australian climate. From 28 seeds I planted in individual pots last spring, 27 grew up to 30 cm in the summer after waiting aprox. 40 days to their germination. One of them has totally light yellow folliage, even the stems are yellow colored. I am watching specially over this one to see how it grows and if it maintains its very interesting pallette. It seems to prefer light shadow and can get burned leafs if left in full summer sun. I wonder if it can be a subspecies? Could noy find any information abuçout it on the web
Elizabeth H.
tom Thu Feb 21 2008
We have a nice one growing in a front yard in Orlando, Florida. IKEA sold them as saplings for use as houseplants; but, as most houseplants do very well outdoors in our climate, I gave it a try. It's made it through several light frosts without any damage and has reached a height of 2.5m. No flowers yet, though.
Elizabeth H.
nikki Thu Feb 28 2008
This information has helped me alot with my sinece assignment. It gave me nealy all the answers or help to get the answers.
Elizabeth H.
lesa Mon Apr 7 2008
how long do these take to grow?
Elizabeth H.
G Mohr Wed May 28 2008
I've been growing one in a pot for nearly 10 years. It's about 5'6" tall and seems healthy but it has never flowered or produced seeds. Is there anything I can do to get it to flower?
Elizabeth H.
BILLY HENDRIX Mon Feb 9 2009
I am researching the uses of these seed and I can not find any information about the possible oil extraction. It shows me that it might be possible to ferment for a possible source of material to use in the production of ethanol. What is your opinion? Thank you.
Elizabeth H.
BILLY HENDRIX Mon Feb 9 2009
Thank you for emailing back. Billy
Elizabeth H.
BILLY HENDRIX Tue Feb 10 2009
someone has sent me an email, that links me to this site, but I can not find any message. Where I am I to look???
Elizabeth H.
Lachlan Scanlan Tue Apr 21 2009
The ability these plants show for tolerating low light has given rise to their popularity as an indoor foliage plant. They are typically multi-planted ie many seeds direct sown into a pot for this purpose. As stated above they are easily germinated and it is commom to see many dozens to hundreds of juveniles germinating and growing beneath parent trees. Interestingly cattle are known to become addicted to these seeds which eventually result in a slow death(weeks)to the animal if not removed from the source of seed. Already sick cattle once yarded(locked away) from the trees crave the seeds so much they may jump fences to get back to them. This problem mainly on dairy farms led to widespread removal of the trees from dairy farms in particular.
Elizabeth H.
AMBER Tue Aug 11 2009
My friend recieved a planted seedling in a small pot (the plant is about 12- 16 inches tall now). We would like to know when to transplant, if the plant likes lots of room for its roots or to be slightly root bound. Thank you so much for the other information I have read in this site.
Elizabeth H.
catherine Tue Jan 12 2010
Please advise if these trees, we have 3 in pots, can be planted near swimming pools? Is there a problem with the roots? Thanks very much.
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Subject : Castanospermum australe  

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