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Breynia (or Coffee Bush)

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Breynia oblongifolia (Family: Phyllanthaceae)

This beautiful native shrub grows along the east coast of Australia and into New Guinea. It can be found in rainforest, Eucalypt woodlands and even some Acacia woodland ecosystems.

Breynia usually grows as an erect shrub, but if pruned or grown from cuttings, becomes an attractive bush. It produces small green flowers hidden underneath the oval-shaped leaves, followed by small fruit which turn red and then black when fully ripe.

Tiny Breynia oblongifolia seedling at Happy Valley (Photo: Tina Raveneau)

Breynia is useful in restoration as a pioneer for colonising disturbed sites. As it grows, it improves conditions for other native plants by providing shade, organic matter and attracting a variety of wildlife. Breynia are pollinated by Leafflower Moths (Epicephala species) which also lay eggs inside the flower ovary. This relationship is mutually beneficial as moth larvae then consume some of the developing seeds.

It is a larval food plant for the Common Grass Yellow Butterfly (Eurema hecabe) -which explains why you’ll often see masses of yellow butterflies fluttering around the bushes – and also for Parallelia solomonensis and Phyllocnistis diaugella moths. At times the leaves are almost entirely stripped bare by hungry caterpillars, which only seems to strengthen the plant – it readily explodes with new growth soon after. Many different birds are attracted to Breynia. Some feed on caterpillar larvae (natural pest-control) while others are attracted to the fleshy fruit containing the seed (natural seed dispersal). Although quite tough once established, Breynia seedlings need shelter and a humus layer to germinate and survive.

Breynia can easily be mistaken for Easter Cassia, so it’s important to take care during weeding activities. Easter Cassia leaves are opposite, while Breynia leaves are alternate (see images below). Breynia leaves also tend to be slightly pointed while those of Cassia are rounded.

Article contributed by Tina Raveneau, Senior Community Environment Officer, Fraser Coast Regional Council

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