Tuesday, 19 July 2016

A wild and toxic tomato

The Bush or Wild Tomato is a thorny and toxic thing, growing in seasonally inundated areas of otherwise mostly arid Australia. It grows naturally in every mainland State of Australia except Victoria, where it grows 'unnaturally' (having become established as a weed near Dimboola, presumably as a result of human activities).

Solanum quadriloculatum is one of 32 species of Solanum in Victoria, 185 more or less in Australia and something like 1500 worldwide. So Solanum is a big genus, mostly in tropical and subtropical America but also well represented in Australia and Africa. As with my last few plant posts, you can see the subject doing nicely in the Australian Garden at Cranbourne Gardens.

Its family Solonaceae is fully of lovely edible plants such as the garden tomato and potato, and some particularly toxic plants such as Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna). Solanum itself is similar. Our species, Solanum quadriloculatum has been described as 'DEADLY' and 'NOT edible' for humans, and appears to be toxic to cattle. This is despite it carrying the evocative common name of Bush Tomato.

There are native tomatoes in the bush (such as Solanum ellipticum, and another eight species in central Australia) whose fruit you can eat, some after removing the seed and then drying or roasting, but best not to eat any wild tomato unless you have expert botanical and culinary advice on hand.

The Bush Tomato, Solanum quadriloculatum, has, and the species name suggests, fruits with four segments (locules). The angular fruits are also distinctly 'spongy when green, hard when ripe'. Very hard it seems - like bone! But then so are some other, edible, native species of Solanum.

The leaves are woolly with star-shaped white hairs, punctuated in places by long purplish-black spines or prickles. The prickles bristle around the stems but peter out on the leaves where you find them scattered along the veins but not in between.

I'm reluctant to even indirectly promote a website that promotes homeopathy*, but I am amused by the 'flower essence' of this species being described as giving a 'sense of being weighed down and encumbered' (negative) or providing 'freedom to move on in life' (positive). I guess dying from eating its poisonous fruits would be an encumbrance, but surviving would allow you to at least move on.

Here are a few more images I took a few weeks ago of the soft, and not so soft, indumentum, which I find captivating. More than enough to keep living, with a light heart.

*I'm advised that the 'bush flower essences' sold by Newton's are not marketed as homeopathic (they are considered herbal or naturopathic).


Elaine coolowl said...

Informative and entertaining as usual Tim! Newton's sell a lot of substances only a few of which are correctly Homoeopathic. The bush Flower Essences are NOT Homoeopathic but Herbal or perhaps Naturopathic. There is a big difference but all are efficacious when *correctly prescribed*.

Tim Entwisle said...

Thanks Elaine. I'll add a note making it clear this particular one isn't marketed as homeopathic. Tim