Solanum ellipticum, known as the potato bush, although commonly called the Native Tomato (or the Bush Tomato) is widespread throughout Central Australia, providing an abundance of fruit when conditions are suitable.

A striking looking plant, that are at their best after rain, with purple mauve flowers and furry velvety leaves that are pale green or greyish. Unlike the Solanum centrale that has a more star-shaped flower, the Solanum ellipticum corolla is a more pentagonal shape, measuring 20–30 mm diameters across. The bright yellow stamen/anthers are about 4–5 mm long. There are 1 to 7 flowers on the inflorescence.

Bush Tomato (Solanum ellipticum)
Bush Tomato (Solanum ellipticum), Olive Pink Botanic Garden, Alice Springs, NT

The leaves are ovate to elliptic, about 4–8 cm long and 2–3 cm wide, undulate and the petiole is 1–5 cm long.

The fruit are round that starts off green (may have purplish stripes) and then turns to yellow when ripe. The fruit of this species is edible but care should be taken as other Solanum species have poisonous or unpalatable fruit.

A sprawling perennial herb, the Solanum ellipticum is hairy (prickles up to 10 mm long) along the stems. A fast growing shrub, they can be found growing on yellow to red sand, sandy, granite, sandstone soil and next to creek beds. Seen on spinifex plains, scree slopes and rocky outcrops.

This is a variable species, with three main forms: the typical form (that is moderately prickly with relatively large leaves) and is widespread in arid areas; a prickly form occurs on ranges in Central Australia; and a small-leaf form occurs on the upper Eyre Peninsula (mainly west of the Flinders Ranges).

Common name
Potato Bush, Bush Tomato, Native Tomato.


CAUTION
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.

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

  • Scientific classification
  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • Clade: Tracheophytes
  • Clade: Angiosperms
  • Clade: Eudicots
  • Clade: Asterids
  • Order: Solanales
  • Family: Solanaceae
  • Genus: Solanum
  • Species: S. ellipticum
  • Binomial name: Solanum ellipticum

Footnote & References

  1. Solanum ellipticum, Australian Native Plants Society (Australia), http://anpsa.org.au/s-eli.html#
  2. Solanum ellipticum, eFlora SA, Government of South Australia, http://www.flora.sa.gov.au/efsa/lucid/Solanaceae/Solanum%20species/key/Australian%20Solanum%20species/Media/Html/Solanum_ellipticum.htm