The Solanum genus contain a variable number of annual and perennial plants ranging from forbs, vines, small to large shrubs and small trees. Most are poisonous, but there are a number of edible fruits, leaves, tubers, including many that are now cultivated:

  • Tomato – Solanum lycopersicum
  • Potato – Solanum tuberosum
  • Eggplant – Solanum melongena
Bush Tomato (Solanum ellipticum)
Bush Tomato (Solanum ellipticum), Olive Pink Botanic Garden, Alice Springs, NT

Among this group of plants are the species often referred to as ‘bush tomato’ or ‘bush raisin’. In Central Australia and the Northern Territory, the genus Solanum that include the bush tomato are usually found as small shrubs anywhere from 30 cm to about 1 metre in height. With a covering of hairs, the star-shaped flowers are mostly in clusters, often purple and have the yellow anthers projecting from the centre of each flower. The fruit look like small tomatoes of about 0.5 cm to 3 cm in diameter. The fleshy fruit vary in colour and may be green, yellow, brown, red or black.

The edible bush tomato include Solanum esuriale, S. centrale, S. ellipticum and S. cleistogamum (whilst S. coactiliferum is only edible after removal of the skin).

Bush Tomato (Solanum ellipticum)
Bush Tomato (Solanum ellipticum), Olive Pink Botanic Garden, Alice Springs, NT
There are many Solanum species that resemble Solanum centrale, and only some of them produce edible fruit. Some closely related species produce fruit that are toxic.

The unripe fruit contains the toxin solanine (the same as that found in green potatoes) and must be fully ripened before consumption.

S. sturtianum is poisonous and can usually be recognised by the yellow or black dry brittle fruits.

Of the 36 species found in Central Australia and the Northern Territory region, these include:

  • S. centrale (Desert raisin)
  • S. chenopodinum (Wild tomato)
  • S. chippendalei (Bush tomato)
  • S. cleistogamum (Shy nightshade)
  • S. coactiliferum (Western nightshade)
  • S. dioicum (Wild tomato)
  • S. ellipticum (Potato bush / Native Tomato)
  • S. esuriale (Quena, Tomato bush)
  • S. ferocissimum (Spiny potato bush)
  • S. gilesii (Wild tomato)
  • S. lasiophyllum (Wild tomato)
  • S. nigrum (Black berry nightshade)
  • S. orbiculatum (Wild tomato)
  • S. petrophilum (Prickly Nightshade)
  • S. quadriloculatum (Wild tomato)
  • S. sturtianum (Thargomindah nightshade, Sturt’s nightshade)
  • S. tumulicola (Wild tomato)
Potato Bush (Solanum ellipticum)
Potato Bush (Solanum ellipticum), Olive Pink Botanic Garden, Alice Springs, NT

  • Scientific classification
  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • Clade: Tracheophytes
  • Clade: Angiosperms
  • Clade: Eudicots
  • Clade: Asterids
  • Order: Solanales
  • Family: Solanaceae
  • Subfamily: Solanoideae
  • Tribe: Solaneae
  • Genus: Solanum

Footnote & References

  1. Bushfires and Bushtucker Aboriginal Plant Use in Central Australia, Author: Peter Latz
  2. Solanum, (last visited Feb. 20, 2021)
  3. Wildflowers and Plants of Inland Australia, Author: Anne Urban
  4. Bush Tomato Handbook by Ange Vincent, Niti One Limited,