Australian Tropical Rainforest Plants - Online edition

Cerbera manghas L.

Shrub (woody or herbaceous, 1-6 m tall)
Click/tap on images to enlarge
Flower. © Stanley Breeden
Fruit, side view, seed. © W. T. Cooper
10th leaf stage, cotyledons still attached. © CSIRO
Scale bar 10mm. © CSIRO
Leaves and Flowers. © CSIRO

Linnaeus, C. von (1753) Species Plantarum 2: 208. Type: Habitat in Indiis ad aquas.

Common name

Beach Milkwood; Dog Bane; Dog Bone; Grey Milkwood; Milkwood, Grey; Milkwood; Pink Eyed Cerbera; Rubber Tree


Exudate copious, usually milky but often slightly green or yellowish.


Petioles and twigs produce a milky exudate. Leaf blade rather large, about 13-25 x 4-7 cm, petioles about 1.5-6 cm long. Lateral veins about 25-35 on each side of the midrib. Stipules small and inconspicuous, wedged between the petiole and the twig.


Flowers strongly perfumed, about 20-35 mm diam., centre red. Sepals about 12-25 mm long. Corolla tube about 22-35 mm long, lobes about 18-26 mm long.


Fresh fruits produce a milky exudate when cut. Fruits about 6-7 x 3.5-4 cm. Endocarp thick, woody and fibrous.


Four to six cataphylls normally produced before the first true leaves. First leaf blades narrowly lanceolate to elliptic, apex drawn out into a fine point, base attenuate. Intramarginal vein present. At the tenth leaf stage: leaf blade about 17.5 x 3.2 cm, petiole about 1 cm long, lateral vein angle almost 90 and the veins forming loops near the blade margin. All seedling parts produce a milky exudate when cut or broken. Taproot slightly swollen. A large seed about 8 x 4 cm remains attached to the seedling. Seed germination time 55 days.

Distribution and Ecology

A widespread species in NT, CYP, NEQ, CEQ, and southwards as far as south-eastern Queensland. Altitudinal range from sea level to 80 m. Grows in lowland rain forest and similar situations close to the sea. Also occurs in Malesia.

Natural History & Notes

Cases of poisoning resulting in death have been reported after consuming the seeds of this species. Everist (1974).

A potent drug cerberin has been extracted from the extremely poisonous seeds; it has some resemblance to digitalis in its effect on the heart, and has been used in medicine in very small amounts. Other parts of the plant are less toxic. Cribb (1981).

Tanghinia manghas (L.) G.Don., Gen. Hist. 4: 98(1837). Cerbera odollum Gaert., Queensland Flora 3: 981(1900). Cerbera odollum auct. non Gaertn, Fl. Austral. 4: 306(1869). Cerbera odollam var. mugfordii F.M.Bailey, Queensland Agricultural Journal 3(4): 282(1898), Type: Mourilyan Harbour, near high-water mark, Wm. Mugford. Cerbera lactaria Buch.- Ham. ex Spreng., Sys. Veg. 1: 642(1824), Type: Not designated. Cerbera lactaria Ham. ex D.Dietr., Synopsis Plantarum 1: 623(1805), Type: In Ind. Orient.
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