Thursday, June 30, 2011

Wombat Berry

Eustrephus latifolius

I suppose wombats (in those parts of Australia where wombats live) must eat the tubers of this plant. People can eat them too, and they are said to be sweet and delicious. If you want to try, you’ll need a good digging stick, as they might be half a metre underground.

You can also eat the crisp white arils which partially surround the seeds. There’s not much of them, so they are hardly worth the trouble - but if you are desperate for fruit, it’s there!

Each fruit has developed from a summer flower which looked like this - three pale pink sepals, and three fluffy white petals.

The plants are fruiting beautifully all around the district at present. They do it each year, but our summer of rain has given them an extra healthy glow. When they have finished, the plants will die back for the winter. These light climbers are suitable for garden use, but are best cut back to the ground each winter, and allowed to regrow in spring. They are also suitable as pot plants for porches and balconies. They grow in heavy shade, so can even be used indoors (but don’t expect flowers or fruit in that situation).

Here is a closer look at their leaves. Note that they have no stems, and no obvious mid-vein on the upper surface, though on some plants you can distinguish one on the underside.

This helps to distinguish them from a similar-looking local plant, the scrambling lily Geitonoplesium cymosum. In both plants, the leaves vary a good deal in size and shape, being bigger in damper climates and smaller in the dry places west of the Great Dividing Range.

The scrambling, lily, however, has a short but obvious little stalk to its leaves. If you look closely you can see that it is twisted. And it has an upstanding central vein on the upper side of the leaf.

Its spring flowers are pure white, and lack the little beards on the their petals which distinguish the wombat berry flowers.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the clear distinction between the wombat berry and the scrambling lily. I've found what is probably the scrambling lily as a volunteer in Beaumont, California, and Rancho Santa Fe, California. In both loications the leaves were short and wide with a lovely, pronounced curve--not grass-like at all. I brought some home to our San Diego suburb a few months ago and tried it in a pot. It sent out plenty of vines, but the color weakened, mature leaves died in clusters, and the leaves on the new growth stayed tiny. Now my neighbor is going to see if it will do well in her yard. I guess we won't know what it is for sure until it flowers, but once it does we'll have you to thank!

Patricia Gardner said...

You have astonished me!
Geitonoplesium cymosum, the scrambling lily, grows naturally in
eastern Australia, the Philippines, Indonesia, New Guinea, Fiji, New Caledonia, Norfolk Island and Lord Howe Island. Eustrephus latifolius, wombat berry, grows naturally in Malesia, the Pacific Islands and eastern Australia.
I was aware that the wombat berry grew as a "volunteer" (technically an environmental weed) in California, but was unaware of the presence there of the scrambling lily (though I did know it has become an invasive weed in New Zealand).
Are you quite sure you want to go to so much effort to grow a plant that might go wild and outcompete California's own native plants, to the detriment of her natural environment?

Anonymous said...

No worries. My neighbor and I are both conscious gardeners, so it won't get far!

Patricia Gardner said...

Well it's your decision, of course, but many a gardener has grown a pretty plant with known environmental weed, in the belief that they could control it, and has then found that they are quite unable (and unwilling) to stop birds eating the fruit. In fact we rather like it when we attract birds to our gardens with the things we plant. Unfortunately the side effect of birds eating fruit is birds spreading seed.
This is a good reason for gardeners the world over to become familiar with their own local plants, and to grow them. In these literate times where so much of our gardening knowledge comes from books, magazines, internet and TV shows, we can be surprised to discover how many wonderful plants can be found growing naturally in our nearby countryside, if we only take the trouble to seek them out. These plants can be grown with a clear conscience, and result in much richer bird and butterfly life in our gardens.
The intention of my blog is actually to help people from my own district know and grow our own plants. It has never been to encourage people from other places to grow them in preference to the plants of their own places in the world.

Anonymous said...

I have wondered how a plant can be regarded as native to an isolated volcanic island. How far back in history do we go to classify a plant as native?

Patricia Gardner said...

Hello Anonymous.
Both questions can be answered together - but "How far back in history" is really the wrong question. I think your second question should have been: "How do we define the distinction between native and non-native plants?"
The answer is that we consider plants introduced to a new area by humans to be non-native, while those moved around by other means (defined as "natural" means) are considered to be native.
Nature moves plants around, often in the form of seeds but frequently as whole plants, or as parts of plants that are capable of establishing themselves and growing into whole plants. They cross oceans both by floating, sometimes on debris, and by being carried by the wind and flying animals. Where a niche is vacant or conditions are favourable to the plant, it may thrive and establish a new population. We call these plants "native" even if they only arrived in their new niche this morning.
The reason we choose to make the distinction between plants introduced by humans, and all the others, (and use the words "native" and "non-native" as shorthand to distinguish between them) is the growing awareness and concern that the very large scale of human movement of plants to new environments, is a major factor in the current extinction event of the world's flora and fauna.
Meanwhile, if you wish to write further comments, could you please sign them?
There’s something vaguely discourteous (though I’m sure you don’t mean it to be) about posting anonymous comments on the personal blogsite of someone whose identity is open to you.
Signing with a name also enables me to know whether the “anonymous” posts come from one person or several, which might make a difference to how I answer them.
(Yes, I know the Blogspot comment function asks you to "sign in". Most people ignore this, so I get posts which look odd. They say “Anonymous said...” at the beginning, but are signed with a name at the end. This suits me fine.)

Anonymous said...

Patricia, your the worst. Your garden advice is shit and your ideology is so 70's hippy Bs

Patricia Gardner said...

Thank you. There are some people with whom it is a great pleasure to be reassured that I have nothing in common.

Unknown said...

Hi, good to read your info on the wombat berry thankyou. My mum does botanical illustration in watercolour, of plants endemic to Cooloola / Noosa hinterland, and the butterflies they host. Do u know which butterflies use the wombat berry (there is a variety?) , and if any specifically favour it? :0) Ta Ange

Patricia Gardner said...

Hi Ange.
Good to hear from you.
I am not aware of any butterflies using the wombat berry as a host plant. If you are finding caterpillars on them, they could well be those of a rather pretty moth, Cryptoptila immersana. It is known as "four eyes" because of four black markings on the caterpillar's head. The caterpillar hides by day in a little house it makes by joining several leaves together with silk.
You can see a good picture of it on
and some pictures of the caterpillars on
Moths are very important to our ecosystems, as they provide food for so many forms of wildlife including birds and microbats. If your mum wants to paint wombat berries she might like to do one with this moth.

Kim said...

Hi Trish,

I really appreciate your blog, and especially appreciated your cogent and sensible comments on invasive species in this comment thread. I work as a conservation biologist and we see how damaging invasive species can be.


Kim Jacobsen

Patricia Gardner said...

Thanks for your comment, Kim.
Yes, it is depressing to see how some invasive species are pushing the natives out of existence.
We live in interesting times.