Kangaroo Apples – the 8 species of genus Solanum which belong to section Archaesolanum grow in wild state in Australia, New Zealand and New Guinea areas. They all are (semi-)evergreen medium size shrubs with more or less lobed leaves and fleshy berries which break and fall down when ripe. The fruits of the most species are edible. Every one have other taste and color. They have exotic aroma and are very delicious. They are also very ornamental due to a profusion of blue flowers and colorful fruits. Inside of fruits there are not only seeds but also stone cell granules which have various shape and size (in the same fruit).
Although they are subtropical and needs long growing period I discovered that some species can be successful grown as annual in temperate gardens. They only need to be sown very early inside – in January-March and replanted to a garden after last frosts. Then the fruits are ripening in August and September. They love much of warm and sunlight. There is very difficult to buy viable seeds, especially rarer species. The seeds should be sown surface. GA3 (2000ppm by 24 hours) can increase germination rate. They germinate usually within 2-4 weeks. The plants are suitable to growing in medium size pots.
The names of taxons which I tried to grow are bolded and below of an each description there are visible their images. All photos were made by me in my garden and balcony in last a few years. I grown 5 species. Four of them (S. laciniatum, S. aviculare, S. vescum and S. linearifolium) can be successful grown outside in temperate areas if sown early. The fifth species – S. symonii is more difficult (it is later and ripens as late as in mid autumn).
Description of species:
The best known and often cultivated there is S. laciniatum (Large Kangaroo Apple, Southern Kangaroo Apple). It occurs in wild state in extreme south-east Australia and Tasmania. It has rotate-shaped blue flowers and orange fruits (delicious raw or cooked).
Solanum laciniatum is often confused with other species – S. aviculare (Rainforest Kangaroo Apple) native to eastern Australia. The last one differs by very small seeds, star-shaped flowers and darker (almost red) fruits. It is one of the parents of hybrid S. laciniatum (the natural crossing of S. aviculare and S. vescum). Fruits of S. aviculare are edible only in small quantity (larger amounts can be a little harmful). It is difficult to find the seeds of true S. aviculare (often they are falsified by S. laciniatum).
The mentioned above S. vescum (Gunyang, Green Kangaroo Apple) is characterized by large (probably the largest in the section) pale blue flowers, huge lobed leaves and yellowish-green fruits. It is native to south-east Australia. The fruits are very delicious and (as the only in the species which I know) something resemble true apples in taste.
S. linaearifolium (Mountain Kangaroo Apple) has narrower leaves than other species. Its flowers are dark blue and fruits pale yellow with large purple spot on the side which is in the sun. It is also native to south-east of Australia. The fruits are delicious after boiling. In raw state they have odd taste.
The comparison of fruits of Solanum linearifolium (on right) and S. laciniatum (on left)
The comparison of leaves of Solanum linearifolium (on left) and S. laciniatum (on right)
S. symonii (Wepping Dune Tomato) occurs in south-west Australia. It is similar to other species but fruits are small and have purple-whitish-green color. The taste is good, exotic. As I wrote above it grows more slowly and ripens late.
There are 3 species more yet: S. simile (Oondoroo) native to whole south Australia, S. capsiciforme (Native Pepper) with green elongated fruits (resembling a hot pepper) which occurs in south-west and middle-south Australia and S. multivenosum (unknown common name) from New Guinea. The seeds of first two species are relatively easy to getting but often (in my experience always) not germinate. If you have available the fresh seeds of any of three last species please write to me.