Plant notes: Kangaroo apple

Colourful but toxic. The ripe fruit of kangaroo apple takes on a yellow or reddish colouration..

Using biological resources to fullfill the needs of people and of natural systems is one of permaculture’s design principles. Bill Mollison, one of the originators of the design system, described doing this as working with, not against, nature. Everything gardens, Bill wrote, in saying that living things—people, animals and plants—alter their environments to suit their needs.

In permaculture design, we select plant species that supply our needs while meeting the needs of natural systems.

When selecting species for use in design, consider:

  • plant suitability for our climate
  • how plants would benefit people and their environments
  • multiple roles for plants — food, windbreak, habitat, fuelwood, environmental modification, psychological, aesthetic etc
  • where to best locate the plant in a planting plan
  • any cautions such as toxicity, irritability, potential for spread in ecosystems.

Kangaroo apple

COMMON NAME: Kangaroo apple.

SPECIES/BOTANICAL NAME: Solanum laciniatum, Solanum aviculare.

FAMILY: Solanaceae

CENTRE OF DIVERSITY:

  • Australia, New Zealand
  • found in NSW, Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania.

CLIMATE: Cool temperate to tropics.

GROWTH FORM:

  • large shrub to 2m high by 1.5m wide
  • lanceolate-shaped or irregularly lobed juvenile leaves 300 mm long by 250 mm wide and smaller generally entire lance-shaped adult leaves 150mm long by about 30–50mm wide
  • five-petalled purple flowers 30–50mm spring and summer.
Kangaroo apple growing in Tasmania. The shrub occurs over a range of climates.

PROPAGATION:

  • seed
  • full sun
  • well drained moist soils; range of soil conditions
  • tolerates frost but not drought.
Flower of kangaroo apple

USES:

Fruit or entire plant depending in intended use—

  • food —when ripe fruit is orange to red it is said to be edible if cooked; ONLY RIPENED FRUIT is edible fresh, raw or cooked (see CAUTION below).
  • windbreak understorey
  • screen plant
  • erosion control planting
  • young foliage of some varieties contain a series of steroids which are of commercial value as raw material for the manufacture of contraceptives (Source: Australian National Botanic Gardens, Wikipedia).
Cluster of ripening fruit and lanceolate leaves.

INDIGENOUS USES: Australian Aboriginals used the fruit as a poultice on swollen joints.

CAUTION:

  • unripe kangaroo apples are toxic and bitter, containing the toxic alkaloid solasodine
  • all parts of the plant are poisonous.

NOTE: Kangaroo apple is a pioneer species, fast to establish and short-lived.

Photos: Species in Royal Botanic Gardens Hobart. Photos ©Russ Grayson.

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Russ Grayson

Russ Grayson

I'm an independent online and photojournalist living on the Tasmanian coast after nine months on the road in a minivan.