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Exocarpos latifolius R.Br. 1810
pronounced: eks-oh-KAR-poss lat-ee-FOH-lee-uss
(Santalaceae – the sandalwood family)
common names: Native Cherry, Broad-leafed Ballart
Exocarpos is from the Greek εξο (exo), it is outside, and καρπος (karpos), fruit. The reason for the name is obvious when you look at the fruit. The orange-red portion is the swollen stem, and that is the part which is eaten. Latifolius is from the Latin latus, wide, and folium, a leaf.
This is quite an important ‘bush tucker’. One of the trees photographed is in the coastal vine thicket at the southern end of Nelly Bay; the other is just behind the dunes on the Horseshoe Bay foreshore.
Large specimens of the plant have a very dark rough bark. The leaves are very variable; they may be broad-ovate, elliptic or obovate, 3-7 cm by 2-4 cm, the apex may be obtuse, more-or-less emarginate, or mucronate; they are palmately veined, and coloured a dull yellowish green; the petioles are 5-20 mm long.
The fruit starts as a green drupe. As it matures and ripens, the stem behind the fruit swells and becomes fleshy. This swollen stem is sweet and palatable when fully ripe; there is a sweet burst of taste at first, followed by a lingering, dry, resinous taste. If eaten before it is properly ripe, it is very astringent.
The shrub is a semi-parasite. It begins its life as a parasite seedling, tapping into the roots of a neighbouring tree to steal nutrients from the host plant. As it grows bigger, it relies more and more on its own ability to trap sunlight with its broad evergreen leaves – the process of photosynthesis. Quandongs and sandalwoods behave in a similar manner.
This is an understorey plant in transitional forest between the littoral rainforest and coastal vine thickets of eastern Australia and the offshore islands. There are several other species of the genus, among them Exocarpos cupressiformis and Exocarpos sparteus, that are found in other parts of the country, particularly in Victoria and in the Mount Lofty region of South Australia. Exocarpos latifolius grows up to a limit of about 5 m high. It can sometimes be found on the sand dunes very close to the high tide mark, or on hillside slopes.
I understand from perusing gardeners’ blogs that it is difficult to get the seeds to germinate. On one blog I noticed that the blogger thought the seed would germinate better if it had passed through a bird’s digestive system first. He gave no hint as to how one would collect such seeds. The only way I can think of would be to feed the fruits to a caged bird. Once germinated, the seedlings would have to be planted close to a suitable host tree; but no one seems to be quite sure of what trees are suitable.
Exocarpos latifolius yields a fragrant dark-coloured wood, hard and coarse-grained, that is used for cabinet-making. It is whitish to reddish brown, heavy, strong and durable, and finishes well, being easily polished. It is sometimes used as a substitute for sandalwood, but it loses its fragrance fairly quickly. As it is available only in short crooked pieces, it is used for small utelsils and handles.
It is reported that some of the Aboriginal peoples chewed the leaves or the bark of the plant as a contraceptive. The burning leaves repelled insects, and an infusion of the leaves was used to treat sores.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken in Nelly Bay 2010, Horseshoe Bay 2013, 2014
Page last updated 4th December 2016