I have become a purist. If it’s not edible and it’s not native, take it out. Rows of recently planted exotics bring out the latent ‘chainsaw evangelist’ in me and I have seriously considered making up little signs to hang on these E.Ps (exotic plants) - ‘Wot’s this doing here???”
On my own block, I have further reason to cull out the thoughtlessly planted foreigners - I need every square metre for bushfood species.
With our climate and soil here on the range, we’re able to grow nearly all of the subtropical rainforest species and many of the tropical as well, but for now, I’ll look at the local species only. I’ll begin with the smaller plants and build up to such giants as the bunya and blue quandong.
I have an enduring passion for the delicate Midyim (Austromyrtus dulcis). This prostrate shrub or tall ground cover will grow to around 500mm high and a metre or more across. Its drooping habit makes it ideal for banks or along a raised wall and the coppery sheen of its leaves places it in the feature plant category. Best of all, the berries are one of the nicest ‘bush snacks’ to be found. This is an unusual looking fruit, being light grey with purple specks. When ripe, it is soft, with a creamy translucent flesh. The taste is a cross between apple, cinnamon and apricot, with a touch of pine. The seeds are very small and (having eaten literally thousands of them) I presume they’re edible. In the warmth and sandy soils of Fraser Island, the berries can grow to close to cherry size but in the hinterland, they’re more likely to stay pea-sized. Given a good location, the plants can bear in the second year and certainly by the third.
For good fruiting, they prefer a very sunny location and a light soil. I believe the addition of a little lime (I actually use chicken grit) is beneficial. I didn’t water mine once they were established and the plants with adequate moisture have done best. Those in drier spots have seemed quite happy but slower to fruit. Certainly, plants located in heavier soils have struggled.
Most of the established plants are heavy bearers - or perhaps I should say prolific bearers as you’d be lucky to get a kilo of fruit from even the best performing plant.
On the down-side - harvesting’s a pain.
Once ripe, the berries will fall at the slightest touch. Once fallen, you’ve got a task to retrieve them.
I experimented with a cardboard ‘skirt’ which I pushed under the bush - it didn’t work. I then tried a circular net in a wire frame but found that the manoeuvring to get it in place made it impractical.
I am now trying out a number of different collars on young plants to encourage them to grow up off the ground. This has been reasonably successful but I am yet to find the ideal material for the collar, which has to be enlarged as the plant grows.
Midyim berries can be eaten fresh (these are best but they deteriorate quite quickly after harvesting), dried (they look like small dark currents and taste less apply than the fresh fruit) or processed (to date, my only processing has been to preserve them in syrup - the taste’s nice but they don’t maintain their shape too well!)
I’m sure the Midyim berry is also good tucker for some of our native fauna, though to be honest I’ve seen neither bird nor four footed friends dining on them. Perhaps some reader might know of some native which shares my delight in this local, wild fruit.
In the next article, I’ll look at our native pepper.