Solanum aviculare is a mostly soft-wooded and small to medium-sized shrub, potentially reaching 4 metres tall by 3 metres wide – single or multi-stemmed.
It has a large natural distribution, growing mostly along the coast and tablelands of NSW, as well as the western slopes (around Dubbo). It extends into Queensland, along the coast, tablelands and inland, to as far north as north-west of Port Douglas. It grows commonly in the eastern half of Victoria, and mostly along the south coast in the west of the state. It is also native to New Zealand, New Guinea and the pacific islands including Lord Howe and Norfolk.
It extends into South Australia, as far west as Elliston, including Kangaroo Island – where it is thought to be naturalised due to cultivation. It has also naturalised in Western Australia.
It grows in a variety of habitats including coastal rainforest and wet sclerophyll forest as well as regenerating areas in these habitats. It can also be seen growing in wastelands adjoining bushland and will even regenerate on a mound of dumped soil.
Solanum spp. have simple and alternate leaves – entire or heavily lobed (pinnatisect). Some species, including the foliage, have thorns. in this species, the leaves may be entire or dissected (pinnatisect) with long thin lobes; lobed leaves have an overall ovate to broad-elliptic, up to 30 cm long and 10 cm wide, with lobes up to 10 cm long and 2 cm wide; entire leaves are lanceolate to narrow-elliptic to 25 cm long by 3 cm wide, typically dark to mid green, hairless and without thorns.
Solanum spp. produce flowers in a variety of inflorescences as cymes to raceme-like or panicle-like groups with flowers distinctly 5-petaled – rotate to stellate – in colours white, yellow, purple to mauve and blue. In this species, flowers are about 40 mm across, blue to mauve, with paler centres and bright yellow stamens, and with a green calyx, produced in panicle-like clusters of up to 10, mainly in spring and summer.
The fruit of Solanum spp. is a succulent to dry-ish berry. In this species, they are conspicuous, olive to small easter-egg shaped, to 2.5 cm long to 1.5 cm wide, starting off green and ripening to yellow and then orange-red.
We always have some Kangaroo Apple seedlings appearing in our gardens. They are useful plants as they shelter more delicate plants until they are established.
In our cold climate garden (near Armidale) plants usually reach a maximum height of three metres.
Both flowers and berries are visited by insects and birds. Native bees visit the flowers and aid fertilisation by buzz pollination. The bees sit on top of the anthers and vibrate their wings. This causes pollen to lift out of the upright anthers and adhere to the bees’ bodies. The pollen is carried to other flowers and cross pollination takes place.
Solanum aviculare is a fast growing shrub. Plants are said to have a life span of from five to six years. In our cold climate garden, they have a life expectancy of about four years. This is not a problem as we always have a range of self-sown plants at various sizes and ages in the garden.
A useful plant for a shady garden where other plants may be hard to grow. It is very hardy and does not need watering once established. It will also grow in full sun. It is generally not fussy of soil type. It may be susceptible to some pests such as caterpillars as the stems are generally soft-wooded. It can easily invade bushland areas – so plant with caution if near bushland.
Propagation of Solanum is from seed and cuttings that strike rapidly and enthusiastically.
In New Zealand, the common name for this species is Poroporo. Solanum aviculare is not only interesting horticulturally but also medically. Young foliage and unripe fruits contain steroids which have been used by First Nations Peoples of Australia as raw material for contraceptives. The species is now cultivated in Russia and Hungary for this purpose. Plants are also used as a rootstock for grafting Eggplant / Aubergine (Solanum melongena).
This species is very simlar to another native species S. laciniatum which has orange-yellow berries and notched flower-petals.
Solanum is a very diverse genus with around 1500 species which puts this genus in the top-10 most diverse genera of the world. It includes tomatoes and potatoes. Australia has about 120 species, with possibly more undescribed. About 80 of these are endemic. Some splitting of the genus into separate genera has occurred through time. Many species of native Solanum act as weeds and move easily outside there natural habitat. NSW currently has about 80 species.
This species will regenerate from seed after fire.
Solanum – a plant name that has been applied to plants for a long time. It may refer to sol – Latin for ‘sun’ – hence, these plants are ‘plants of the sun’ or solanem which means ‘to comfort or soothe’ – which may refer to their medicinal properties.
aviculare – Latin – reported to mean ‘little-bird’ which refers to the shape of the lobed leaves.
This species is not considered to be at risk of extinction in the wild.
NSW Flora Online (PlantNET) – Solanum aviculare profile page https://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Solanum~aviculare
Wrigley, J.W. & Fagg, M.I. (2001). Australian Native Plants – Propagation, cultivation and use in landscaping. 4th edition. New Holland Publishers, Pty. Ltd. Australia.