I am often frustrated, while walking in rainforests, by finding fruits on the ground and wondering what they are. Peering up at the canopy may prove futile, as I am unable to see where the fruits have come from. A tree? A vine? And even if I can see it, is it possible to identify the plant?
However, when I came across a generous scatter of these distinctive white fruits on the path in the Goomburra section of the Main Range National Park two weeks ago, I did recognise them, and could therefore easily find their mother plant. They are the fruits of the “common acronychia” or “white aspen”, a plant which is becoming well-known as a “bush tucker” plant. The fruits are edible but very acid, and people make a fruity drink out of them, adding loads of sugar to make it palatable. They also use them in jam, ice-cream, and cakes, as well as seafood and chicken dishes. The very simplest culinary use for the fruits is to add just one or two to a jug of water to give it a nice tang - rather like the restaurant custom of adding slice of lemon.
Alternatively, they can be left on the plant for the birds.
Acronychia are interesting plants in that they are “unifoliate”. This means that their shiny, aromatic leaves look, at first glance, like simple leaves - but close examination shows a join between the leaf and its stalk (petiole). It’s as though a leaflet decided to get together with others to make a compound leaf - but failed to persuade anyone to join in.
Introduced citrus trees have the same unifoliate arrangement.
The late summer flowers are amazingly beautiful. They are white, with four petals, just 1cm across. Their complex geometrical design just asks to be used as an art motif. They are rich in nectar and attract butterflies, and the plant itself is a host for our largest local native butterfly, the “orchard” butterfly.
The plants are likely to be affected by both drought and frost - yet can easily be grown in the Toowoomba district in a sheltered spot, only needing extra watering to get established, and perhaps in the heaviest droughts. They can be grown as shrubs (with pruning to restrict their size and make them produce multiple stems) or as small to medium-sized shady trees, suitable for suburban gardens.
We find common Acronychias along the range from the Bunya Mountains, via Ravensbourne and Goomburra, to the New South Wales border. They may once have grown in Toowoomba, but the vegetation of our fair city’s once rich range-side has been so radically “modified” that it is now impossible to know