Lilly Pillies (mostly species of Syzygium or Acmena) have taken off as a hedge plant in Australia, with lots of new cultivars around resistant to insect attack and growing just the right height.
I won’t talk today about their horticulture or tortured nomenclature – there have been various name changes since they were all called Eugenia – but about their fruits. Food again I’m afraid. Good, Ozzie, bush tucker.
All lilly pillies produce edible fruits, of varying colours. Pink Lilly Pilly (Acmena smithii), Brush Cherry (Syzygium australe), Magenta Lilly Pilly (Syzygium paniculatum) and Blue Lilly Pilly (Syzygium eleosum) are all planted as street trees in Sydney.
A species we grow and interpret here in the Botanic Gardens is Syzygium paniculatum. I gather that in the nursery trade other lilly pilly species may be hiding under this name.
The true Magenta Lilly Pilly, as it is called by Europeans, or Daguba by the Eora people, is rare and threatened in its native habitat near-coastal rainforests between Bulahdelah and Jervis Bay. In fact it may only last another one or two decades in some areas if its habitat continues to be lost.
The flowers appear during summer and fruits of course ripen soon after. Like all lilly pilly fruits they can be eaten raw or made into jams or jellies. The Cadigal, the Eora people living around Farm Cove, ate the fruit raw.
It was one of the few edible plants noted during Cook’s visit to Australia in 1770. He and his artist Sydney Parkinson recorded that Aboriginal people were eating the berries at Botany Bay.
One of the botanists on Cook’s ship, Joseph Banks, noted in his journal that they found several trees which bore fruit of the Jambosa kind (that is, a kind of Eugenia), much in colour and shape resembling cherries. This is assumed to be the Magenta Lilly Pilly, which his fellow botanist Daniel Solander brought back with him after an excursion to the Head of the Bay. Magenta Lilly Pilly still grows naturally in the Towra Point part of Botany Bay.
It was also one of the new native plants (alongside Warrigal Greens, Tetragonia tetragonioides, for example) that the early European settlers ate. They used the lilly pilly for jams and summer drinks.
Image: White-fruited Lilly Pilly (Claudie Satinash) native to far-north Queensland, but growing happily in the ‘Fruit Loop’ at Mount Annan Botanic Garden (thanks to Tracey Armstrong for pictures). It's one of the lilly pillies I haven't mentioned...
*This Passion for Plants posting will also appear on the ABC Sydney website (possibly under 'gardening'), and is the gist of my 702AM radio interview with Simon Marnie on Saturday morning, between 9-10 am.