Pittosporum spinescens

wallaby apple


Pittosporum spinescens

(F.Muell.) L.W.Cayzer, Crisp & I.Telford 2000

pronounced: pit-oh-SPOR-um spy-NESS-kenz

(Pittosporaceae — the pittosporum family)

synonym — Citriobatus spinescens

(F.Muell.) Druce. 1917

pronounced: sit-ree-oh-BAH-tuss spy-NESS-kenz

common names: wallaby apple, orange thorn

native 4Pittosporum is from two Greek words, the Attic Greek πιττα, πισσα (pitta, pissa), pitch, and σπορος (sporos), a seed (resinous seed); spinescens is Latin for ‘becoming spiny’. In the synonym, Citriobatus is from the Latin citrus, the citrus tree, and batus, the blackberry bush. According to the Kew Plant List, there is some doubt at to the correct name of this plant - the synonym might actually be the correct name.

Pittosporum spinescens is an upright, open, evergreen shrub or small tree up to 5 m tall, with hairy branches bearing many narrow spine-like thorns and shiny small rounded green leaves. It grows in the dry rainforests and closed scrubs of Queensland, north-eastern NSW, and Western Australia.

The leaves are 5 – 20 mm long and 2 – 10 mm wide, and the apex may be rounded, or truncate, or notched, or occasionally shortly apiculate, the margins otherwise entire. Only the midrib is evident on the lower surface. The leaves are sessile or subsessile.

In the spring, small, solitary white flowers appear in the leaf axils. The sepals are not seen, and the petals are up to 1 cm long. These are followed by edible thick-shelled berries, 1.5 – 5 cm in diameter, green at first, ripening to yellow or orange. The flavour of the berries is very mild, and slightly sweet, and they have a crunchy texture. They are often borne in large numbers, and dominate the visual landscape of the bush during the ripening season. A single bush may produce thousands of fruits.

The plant will produce offshoots, but doesn’t seem to spread much by this means. The normal spread is by seed dispersal, usually by birds. A number of small birds appear to like nesting in its branches.

It would seem to be very suitable as a garden plant, and some nurseries offer it for sale. Although it prefers coastal locations, it has some tolerance to frosts (there are some growing in the botanical gardens in Canberra), and is quite a popular plant in southern California, particularly in the Santa Barbara area.

The butterfly Paralucia pyrodiscus, known variously as the Eltham or the Fiery or the Dull Copper, uses the plant as a food source for its caterpillars.


Photographs taken 2009-2016, Picnic Bay
Page last updated 15th March 2019