The Butterfly Tree

Skyrail Nature Diary: December 2007


The Ulysses Butterfly (Papilio Ulysses) is one of the best known and most beautiful residents of Australia’s Tropical Rainforests.

Easily recognisable thanks to its astonishing electric blue upperwings, trimmed with a velvety black, the Ulysses is one of the best examples of the swallowtail species.

The brilliant blue of the Ulysses wings are most often seen “flashing” through the sky. This is because it opens and closes its wings whilst in flight. The underside of the Ulysses wings is a drab brown colour. When resting or feeding, the Ulysses closes its wings, hiding its blue colouring and allowing itself to blend in with its surroundings.

The Ulysses can be found from Mackay north, but is most prominent in the canopies of the upland rainforests of Tropical North Queensland.

Whilst this butterfly can be seen year-round, it is most prevalent in the summer months when its host plant, the Pink Evodia, is in flower.

The Pink Evodia (Melicope elleryana) is a medium sized tree with a wide-spreading dark green crown and fragrant pink flowers.

It is also known as “Corkwood”, “Pink-flowered Doughwood” or “Butterfly Tree” due to its butterfly attracting properties.

The Pink Evodia attracts many species of butterflies, however, its biggest fan is the Ulysses Butterfly, which lays its eggs between the leaves. The caterpillar of the Ulysses Butterfly feeds on the Pink Evodia’s leaves which are large in size and a glossy, dark green.

The spectacular clusters of pink, star-shaped flowers appear on the tree during the summer months and look like balls of fluff from a distance.

The flowers have an abundance of nectar and attract an array of butterflies and birds including Parrots, Rainbow Lorikeets and Honeyeaters.

In winter, the flowers are replaced by brown fruits which look like a capsule with a black seed inside, these seeds are a popular food source for many birds.

The Pink Evodia is a medium sized, fast growing rainforest tree with a cylindrical trunk and open canopy. It can grow up to 25m but it is uncommon to see one more than 10m tall.

It is a very messy tree, dropping large amounts of branches on a regular basis. The bark of the tree is pale with a ‘corky’ appearance, giving it the common name of “Corkwood”.

The Pink Evodia is widespread throughout Australia’s Tropical and Subtropical Rainforests. It usually occurs close to the coast and extends from the Clarence River in NSW up to the Cape of North Queensland. It also occurs naturally in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.