Plant of the month 10/2023: Crateva religiosa

Photo: John Elliott

Crateva religiosa, an unusual member of the Caper family, is little known in Townsville although a few plant enthusiasts have grown it successfully here. One of our members has a fine specimen doing very well in his garden (photo below) and it is currently in flower (photo above).

Photo: John Elliott

Crateva religiosa (Capparaceae) grows naturally in Cape York and the Northern Territory and also occurs across Southeast Asia and islands in the Pacific. It has long been considered a sacred tree and planted near temples, as reflected in its species name. In ideal situations it can reach 15 metres but it is much smaller in drier areas. In gardens it can be easily pruned if necessary, as the wood is very soft.

Photo: Russell Cumming

Crateva religiosa may be briefly deciduous at the height of the dry season, before putting out bright green trifoliate leaves and showy delicate flowers in terminal corymbs (photo above). The petals start out white and fade to yellow (photo below).

Photo: Brian Venables

The fruits of Crateva religiosa (photo below) are large with a leathery surface containing numerous seeds in cream flesh. Some people notice a smell of rockmelon on opening these fruits, others find it musky or even nauseating (perhaps depending on the degree of ripening?). The fruits are relished by native mammals and considered edible but not palatable for humans.

Photo courtesy Atlas of Living Australia CC-BY 3.0, for details see: