Solanum – Bush Tomato
Genus Solanum

The Solanum genus contain a variable number of annual and perennial plants. Whilst most are poisonous, there are a number of edible fruits, leaves, tubers, including the cultivated species known as ‘bush tomato’ or ‘bush raisin’, which include Solanum esurialeS. centraleS. ellipticum and S. cleistogamum (although S. coactiliferum is only edible after removal of the skin).

In Central Australia and the Northern Territory, the genus Solanum that include the bush tomato are usually found as small shrubs anywhere from 20 cm to about 1 metre in height. With a covering of  hairs, the star-shaped flowers are mostly in clusters, often purple, with variation of lilac and pink, 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, but are poisonous when unripe (usually the green state). The ripe fruit are pale yellow, sometimes with a green, purple or brown tint.

The wild tomato are often seen along roadside, and can be seen in colonies in most outback habitats, especially after fire or rain.

If you are not an expert at identifying the plant, ‘DO NOT’ eat the fruit, as some Solanum species that look similar, are toxic.

In the Solanum species, the unripe fruit contains the toxin solanine (the same as that found in green potatoes). Only a select few species of Solanum produce edible fruit when fully ripen. Others remain toxic.

There are many other Solanum species that resemble Solanum centrale, and only some of them produce edible fruit eg Solanum chippendalei and Solanum ellipticum. Some closely related species produce fruit that are toxic.
Wild Tomato (Solanum quadriloculatum)
Wild Tomato (Solanum quadriloculatum), Alice Springs

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