A Mystery Tree Bears Fruit
I have a tree in my garden that has been there since planted in the late 1970s or early 1980s. At the present time it is fruiting heavily. These fruits are fleshy, about 1-1.5 cm across, round with a flattened bottom, a bluey-grey colour outside with green-pink flesh and pinkish juice inside. I tasted one the other day and was pleasantly surprised to find it had a similar lemony flavour to Acronychia wilcoxiana, the Silver Aspen. Not surprising, I suppose, as they both belong to the Rutaceae family and are rainforest trees.
I had no idea what species it was when I acquired it. Our members were on an outing to the Mt. Mee State Forest, which was a popular haunt during our early years. The Forestry Department was busy felling much of the rainforest there to make way for Hoop Pine plantations and everything was being bulldozed into piles and burnt. We used to find all sorts of treasures if we could get there before the burning began.
This particular day we were scouting along a track when I noticed a small plant in the middle of the track just waiting to be run over by a truck or bulldozer. I lamented about its fate and Lawrie said, "Do you want it?" and immediately pulled it up out of the ground. It had a few roots attached, so I took it home and potted it up. Some time later I planted it in the front garden, still not knowing what it was, but it had nice glossy leaves which had a lovely smell like eau-de-cologne.
Photo: Jan Sked
During Easter 1982, our Branch took part in an excursion to Fraser Island organized by Rollo Petrie. This was a wonderful four days of adventure and it was during this trip that I finally found out what my mystery plant was.
On one of our walks in the rainforest, Rollo gathered some foliage and green sappy chips from a tree. No one could identify it; so Rollo explained that when he was a boy he had been out in the forest with his father during heavy rain when they had made a fire using wet chips from such a tree. To demonstrate, he lit a match and applied it to the chips. To our amazement they caught fire immediately. He then told us that it belonged to the Rutaceae family and was called Halfordia kendack, Saffron Heart, Greenheart or Southern Ghittoe. Suddenly I realised that this was the same species as my mystery plant, and Rollo confirmed my identification after we returned home.
Halfordia kendack is named after Dr. George Britton Halford (1824-1910), Professor of Anatomy, Physiology and Pathology at Melbourne University, and founder of the first medical school in Australia. Kendack is the native name for the tree in New Caledonia. This is a small to medium sized tree in rainforest, but in my garden has only reached 4-5 metres in over 20 years. It has rather small creamy-green flowers in fairly large clusters at the ends of the branches from about December to February. These are followed by the bluey-grey to purple fleshy fruits that ripen from May onwards. The fruits contain a single hard seed.
Although it is reported to be a good source of food for fruit pigeons, bowerbirds and catbirds, I have never seen any birds eating the fruit. I guess my garden is too far away from any catbirds, bowerbirds and fruit pigeons, but the other fruit eaters, such as Currawongs, Noisy Miners, Noisy Friarbirds, Olive-backed Orioles and Southern Figbirds that do visit my garden seem to ignore it entirely.
I have also planted numerous seeds and not one has germinated. I shall try some more from this season's fruiting. Anyway, I collected over a kilo of fruit this morning, so I am going to try making jam from it. I have made quite nice jam from Acronychia wilcoxiana fruit, so this should be fairly similar, maybe a different colour.
From the newsletter of the Pine Rivers Branch of the Society for Growing Australian Plants (Queensland), May 2009.
Australian Plants online - 2009
Australian Native Plants Society (Australia)