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Wild Passionfruit

Bush Food / Bush Tucker - Central Australia

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Flora of Central Australia
Wild Passionfruit
(Capparis spinosa var. nummularia)

The Wild Passionfruit also known locally as the ‘caperbush’ is a member of the Caper family. It is also known as ‘Merne arrutnenge’ in the Arrernte language of the local Aborigines and is one of the many bush tucker foods.

There are said to be about five species here in Australia in the genus Capparis, with the Capparis spinosa var. nummularia considered the best for cultivation.

C. umbonata is regarded by the Aboriginal people in the region as having the best quality fruit, although it is rare, slow growing, has limited fruit production and spiny branches, all negatives for mass cultivation.

Recognised by the white flower on a long stem, they have 4 white petals, 4 sepals and numerous long white stamens. The tip of the central stalk that protrudes above the stamens contains the ovary. This is where fruit develops. As the flower dies it changes into a pink colour. As the fruit develops, it swells into an oval fruit of about 4 cm long. The fruit ripens from green to yellow, opening to reveal a deep orange-yellow pith with large black seeds.

Also popular with birds and ants, the fruit is at its best during mid-summer. During cold weather period, the fruit is usually to bitter to eat. Do not bite the seeds, as they are also bitter.

It is often seen as a sprawling prickly shrub that grows up to 2 metres in height and between 1 - 4 metres in width. There are two spines (spinosa means spiny) at the base of each leaf. The shrub is also the target for the Caper White Butterfly. The larvae of the butterfly feed voraciously on the leaves of the Wild Passionfruit.

Where found:
The Wild Passionfruit can often be seen growing near rocky hills and riverbeds including the Ross River, Trephina Gorge and often spotted as you drive along the highway along the MacDonnell Ranges. There are specimens growing in Olive Pink Botanic Garden and Alice Springs Desert Park.

Extreme care must be taken when identifying edible food plants and those used in bush medicine. Some bush foods are only edible at different stages of the plant cycle, or when treated appropriately. Bush medicine should only be used under the guidance of a qualified physician. Information here is only provided for research. You should always seek experts in the field to confirm the identification of the plant and whether they are edible or appropriate.

Flora Images — Wild Passionfruit

Bush Food Plants in Central Australia

Wild Passionfruit (Capparis spinosa var. nummularia)

Wild Passionfruit (Capparis spinosa var. nummularia)

Wild Passionfruit (Capparis spinosa var. nummularia)

Wild Passionfruit (Capparis spinosa var. nummularia)

1 Desert Knowledge CRC - Bush Resources: Opportunities for Aboriginal Enterprise in Central Australia. Report 2, October 2005. PDF. Retrieved August 11, 2012.
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