Indian hawthorn

Rhaphiolepis indica

A shrub or small tree growing 1-4 m tall. Its leathery leaves (3-8 cm long) have sharply toothed margins, particularly in the upper half. Its white or pinkish flowers (10-15 mm across) are arranged in dense clusters at the tips of the branches. These flowers have five petals (5-9 mm long and 4-5 mm wide) and numerous stamens. Its rounded fruit (5-10 mm across) turn from green to bluish-black or purplish-black in colour as they mature.

Common names 
Also known as: Indian hawthorn, cherry laurel,
Flowering time 
Spring - Summer
Native to China, Taiwan and south-eastern Asia (i.e. Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam).
Council declaration 
Class R – Reduce populations
Known distribution 

Naturalised in some parts of eastern Australia (i.e. in south-eastern Queensland and the coastal districts of central New South Wales). Possibly also naturalised in Victoria and in the coastal districts of northern and southern New South Wales.


A weed of roadsides, disturbed sites, waste areas, gardens, urban bushland, open woodlands, riparian vegetation and coastal environs in the warmer temperate and sub-tropical regions of Australia.


An evergreen shrub usually growing 1-2 m tall, but occasionally a small tree reaching up to 4 m in height.

Impact and control methods 

Indian hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis indica) is regarded as an environmental weed in New South Wales and Queensland and as a potential environmental weed or "sleeper weed" in other parts of Australia. Currently, it is mainly a problem in remnant bushland in the Brisbane and Sydney regions.This species is actively managed by community groups in New South Wales and appears on several local and regional environmental weed lists in the eastern parts of this state (e.g. in the North Coast region, in the wider Sydney and Blue Mountains region, in the Sydney North region, in Coffs Harbour City and in Byron, Warringah, Mosman, Manly and Ku-ring-gai Municipal Councils).In Queensland Indian hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis indica) is mainly of concern in the south-eastern parts of the state, and it is listed among the top 200 most invasive plant species in this region. It also appears on some local environmental weeds lists (e.g. in Redland Shire) and is growing in conservation areas (e.g. Toohey Forest Park) in south-eastern Queensland.While not yet formally regarded as being naturalised in Victoria and south-eastern New South Wales, Indian hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis indica) has occasionally been reported in these regions (e.g. it appears on the list of environmental weeds for Knox City in Victoria, appears on a list of naturalised plants for the Gippsland Plain bioregion, and is included in a booklet of invasive plants for the New South Wales South Coast region).

Stem and leaves 

The younger stems are rounded, green to purplish-brown in colour, and often covered with fine brown hairs (i.e. tomentose). Older stems are greyish-brown in colour and hairless (i.e. glabrous). The thick and leathery leaves are alternately arranged, but usually crowded towards the ends of the branches. These leaves (3-8 cm long and 0.5-4 cm wide) are oval (i.e. elliptic), oblong or somewhat egg-shaped in outline (i.e. ovate or obovate) and are borne on short stalks (i.e. petioles) 5-18 mm long. They have sharply toothed (i.e. serrate) margins, particularly in the upper half, and rounded or pointed tips (i.e. obtuse to acuminate apices). Leaves are hairless (i.e. glabrous) or somewhat hairy (i.e. pubescent) when young.

Flowers and fruits 

The flowers (10-15 mm across) are arranged in dense clusters at the tips of the branches (i.e. in terminal paniculate cymes). Each flower is borne on a slender stalk (i.e. pedicel) 5-15 mm long and has five green or reddish sepals (4.5-6 mm long and about 2 mm wide) with pointed tips (i.e. acute apices). The five white or pinkish petals (5-9 mm long and 4-5 mm wide) may have pointed or rounded tips (i.e. acute or obtuse apices). Each flower also has numerous (about 15) stamens and an ovary topped with two or three styles that are fused together near the base. Flowering occurs mainly during spring and summer. The rounded (i.e. globose) fruit resemble berries (i.e. they are pomes) and turn from green to bluish-black or purplish-black in colour as they mature. These fruit (5-10 mm across) are hairless and contain one or two seeds. Mature fruit are present mainly during winter (i.e. from July to August).

Reproduction and dispersal 

This species reproduces mainly by seed, which are commonly dispersed by fruit-eating (i.e. frugivorous) birds. They may also be spread in dumped garden waste.

Similar species 

Indian hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis indica) may be easily confused with Japanese hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis umbellata). However, these species can be distinguished by the following differences: Indian hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis indica ) has broad or slightly elongated leaves with obviously toothed (i.e. serrate) margins. Its flowers are white, but sometimes pink-tinged towards the base of their petals.Japanese hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis umbellata ) has relatively broad leaves with margins that are almost entire or slightly toothed in their upper parts. Its flowers are usually white. Indian hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis indica) is also relatively similar to the cotoneasters (Cotoneaster spp.), the firethorns (Pyracantha spp.) and the hawthorns (Crataegus spp.). However, these species all have orange or reddish coloured mature fruit. The firethorns (Pyracantha spp.) and the hawthorns (Crataegus spp.) also have thorns on their stems, while the cotoneasters (Cotoneaster spp.) have entire leaves.