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A single Quandong Berry

Santalum Acuminatum or the Quandong

The Quandong is a truly unique native Australian fruit. Found in the arid and semi-arid regions of all Australian mainland states , Quandong trees have been classified as belonging to the santalum genus of plants. Ideally adapted to arid environments, the Santalum Acuminatum species is known to be a semi-parasitic plant. Quandong trees can tolerate high soil salinity levels and often rely for their complete water requirements from the root systems of host plants. Across their native distribution range, Quandong trees typically grow 2 to 3 metres in height, with a dense leathery crown of leaves perhaps 2 metres wide.

Quandongs tend to fruit between October and February. With a full load of fruit they can look like Christmas Trees. Quandongs should not be mistaken for Wild Apricots which are poisonous.

A Quandong Tree in Fruit

Aboriginal Bush Tucker

Traditionally the Quandong was an important food source for Australian Aborigines. Amongst male members of central Australia's Pitjantjara people, Quandongs were considered a suitable substitute for meat - especially when hunting game was in short supply. Around the Everard Ranges, Quandong gathering and food preparation was considered Pitjantjara women's business. Ripe red Quandong fruits would be eaten raw or dried for later use. Typically Everard Ranges women would collect Quandongs in bark dishes, separate the edible fruit from the pitted stone, and then roll the edible fruit into a ball. The Quandong ball was then broken up for consumption by the tribal group.

Medicinal Uses of the Quandong

Amongst Australian aborigines Quandongs were much valued for their medicinal properties. Specialised uses of the Quandong included a form of tea which was drunk as a purgative. Quandong tree roots were also ground down and used as an infusion for the treatment of rheumatism. Typically Quandong leaves were crushed and mixed with saliva to produce a topical ointmnet for skin sores and boils. Encased within each Quandong seed is an oil rich kernel which was also processed in a similar fashion to treat skin disorders. Quandong kernels could also be eaten and some tribal groups were known to employ crushed kernels as a form of "hair conditioning oil". Ingeniously Australia's aborigines appeared to be aware that Quandongs were a preferred food source of emus, and that a ready supply of Quandong seeds could be found in their droppings.

Quandongs are a preferred food source for Emus.
Emu Droppings and Quandong Seeds. Yum!

Western Australian Emus in Quandong country.
Western Australian Emus in Quandong country.
One of these emus is responsible for the above scat.
Our best guess is the thirsty one!

European Use of the Quandong

Australia's early pastoralists also discovered their own unique uses for the Quandong. Away from homesteads for weeks at a time, stockmen would often bake dampers infused with Quandong leaves. The result was apparently a refreshing change from the usual damper. When in season - between October and February - many farmers would also take their families out for a Quandong picnic. After gathering Quandongs the peeled fruit was used to make a variety of jams, chutneys and Quandong pies. Such treats were often the only delicacies to be had - especially during drought and depression years when money was short. Today successive generations of rural Australians continue with their Quandong picking traditions. They often do so however, in contravention of state laws that prohibit the harvesting of wild Quandongs. In all truth it seems old habits die hard, and for many people the forbidden fruit is all the more tasty because of it.

Domestication of the Quandong

During the past 30 years the Quandong has become a firm favourite of Australia's burgeoning bush food industry. Commercial Quandong plantations are now an economic reality. True domestication of the Santalum Acuminatum species remains some way off however - not altogether surprising given that established fruit varieties such as apples have been undergoing continuous selection and development for thousands of years. Since 1973 Australia's CSIRO has been actively conducting scientific research into developing improved commercial Quandong cultivars.

The aim of such research has been to produce a bright red Quandong with good eye appeal, improved flesh texture, and a palatable mix of Quandong flavours, tannins and food acids. To date the quest for the perfect Quandong has proven elusive. Should CSIRO be successful however, then the Quandong will have become only the second Australian food plant species to have been successfully domesticated. Bring it on CSIRO!

Quandong tree at the base of Pildappa Rock. Water runoff from Pildappa Rock provides a good environment for this Quandong tree.
Quandong Tree at Pildappa Rock, SA

Queer Quandong Facts

  • Fossilised Quandongs have been discovered in the coal seams of Southern Victoria. Apparently these fossils date from 40 million years ago - a time when Australia was still linked to the Antarctic continent.
  • Australian people often refer to Quandongs as the Wild Peach, Desert Peach or Native Peach.
  • Quandongs have a vitamin C content higher than oranges and and almost certainly saved many early Australian explorers from scurvy.
  • Quandong fruit can be dried and frozen for 8 years or more, without losing any flavour whatsoever.
  • Quandong trees possess an aromatic wood that was traditionally used by aboriginal people in "smoking ceremonies".
  • Rural Australian children often used Quandong seeds as Chinese Checker pieces.
  • The President of the New York Explorers Club once imported Quandongs for one of their annual dinners - along with some Polar Ice!
  • To date the only Australian food plant to be successfully domesticated is the Macadamia Nut.The Macadamia Nut was successfully domesticated in Hawaii. Will the Quandong be the second domesticated food plant?