Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Kangaroo Apple - Solanum aviculare

Full shrub
The Kangaroo Apple is a dominant shrub of "disturbed areas" in the rich red basalt soil of Robertson.
In many persons minds it is a weed, almost a nuisance plant.

Despite the name, it is not favoured by Kangaroos, but is named for the shape of the leaf, and the resemblance to the shape of the leaf to the toe structure of the Kangaroo's foot. But that applies only to some leaves - in many cases, the mature leaves are plain ("entire") as in these plants illustrated.
Young bush in flower
I love this plant for its form, for its resilience, for its bright blue flowers in spring and summer, and for the way the birds love its berries in autumn and winter.
Solanum aviculare, as the scientists know it, is described in the Botanic gardens website here. The botanical illustration shows both the entire leaf form, and the lobed form of leaf.


I can imagine few other shrubs which are so productive of fruit and berries. OK, grasses and small perennials might produce more fruit per plant, but then, if you were to count the berries, and multiply by the number of seeds in the berry which is exposed (half eaten) below, you can see you need to be very patient, and to have a calculator, to begin to estimate the number of potential plants which one mature plant might generate each year. Look at the photo of the "wild" plant below, which appears to be dying, presumably from exhaustion, from carrying so many fruit.

Shrub as viewed from
my bedroom window
I love to watch the Satin Bowerbirds (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus) zooming in and out of this particular plant in Autumn, when it is heavy with ripe fruit. They just seem to keep coming and going much of the day. Mostly the green birds, of course, but that is a comment upon the ratio of "blue birds" to the greens, in the Bowerbird population. That is to do with the fact that the immature males keep the green plumage until they reach sexual maturity, perhaps only in their fifth to seventh year (apparently). The "Birds in Backyards" website has a good page on this species (see link above). It even has an MP3 file for the call, although it is not particularly clear in its call. (Scroll all the way down the birds in backyard page, looking on the right hand side)

Single Berry

While you are in the mood, why not browse the entire "Birds in Backyards" list (ordered alphabetically by first name - hence S for Satin Bowerbird). It has some excellent pages for relatively common birds.

This is a close-up of the single fruit (a "berry").

Half-eaten berry -
numerous seeds inside
See the numerous seeds visible inside this half-eaten berry. Tiny little seeds, like grains of sand almost, inside a reddish pulp. I have gingerly tasted these berries, and find them not very appetising. As they are related to tomatoes, and chillis people often ask if they were "bush tucker" for Aborigines, but it seems not.
The Russians have developed a pharmaceutical industry based upon the cultivation of this plant for production of hormones and steroids. So, in general the consumption of the fruit is advised against.

Hugely productive plant
but dropping its leaves
I wonder if this plant, which is a self-sown seedling growing beside my fence, is so productive that it is literally killing itself with its production of fruit? This plant is losing most of its leaves.
I have given up trying to count the number of berries on this plant, but there are about 7 berries per bunch of fruit, on average.
Another thing which often kills these plants is that they are a host plant to grubs of certain moths, which grow inside the stems. In turn, the Black Cockatoos often come in and chew the trunks of these plants, to get at the large grubs inside, thus killing the plants, or destroying their shape.

When a plant has been as productive as this, in just 3 years, why not grow fast, be productive and then curl up one's toes? It seems fair to me.

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