Illawarra Plum

Illawarra Plum

Common name Ilawarra Plum/ Plum Pine
Botanical name Podocarpus elatus
Family Podocarpaceae
Natural range across Gondwana, orignally
Mature height to 12m
Form Upright and bushy
Likes Full sun or part-shade
Dislikes Waterlogged soil
Where to plant Home garden
Known for Bush tucker

What Makes the Illawarra Plum or Plum Pine Stand Out Among Australian Flora?

Nestled within the lush landscapes of New South Wales and Queensland, you will find the remarkable Plum Pine tree, also known as the Illawarra Plum. This distinct native of Australia has the unique honor of being a native conifer and a rich source of bush food. Among the six species of Podocarpus in Australia, the Plum Pine stands tall, embodying both grandeur and utility.

What Kind of Habitat Does the Plum Pine Prefer?

The Plum Pine thrives in the heart of dense subtropical rainforests. In these natural habitats, the tree can reach lofty heights of up to 40m. However, in domestic gardens, they usually grow to a more manageable 12m. These fast-growing trees reach maturity in a short span of eight to ten years.

One striking feature of the Plum Pine is its distinctive seed. Unlike other conifers that bear cones, Plum Pines have a single seed attached to the branch by a fleshy stem. This attribute underscores the fact that conifer seeds are never encased in a fruit, offering a glimpse into the unique botanical characteristics of this tree group.

How Can the Illawarra Plum Enhance Your Culinary Experiences?

The Illawarra Plum is not just pleasing to the eye but also a delight to the palate. The tree’s juicy, pulpy fruits possess a grape-like texture and a mild, sweetish flavor that can be further enhanced through cooking. In New South Wales, the fruit of the Plum Pine was considered one of the best bush foods by both Aboriginal people and European colonists. From being transformed into delightful condiments to being used for wine-making, the fruit of the Plum Pine can add a dash of unique flavor to your culinary repertoire.

The timber from the Plum Pine is also highly sought after, finding use in furniture, joinery, and boat planking. Owing to its resistance to saltwater, it is even employed in jetty piles.

What Makes Podocarps Special?

Podocarpus, the genus that the Plum Pine belongs to, is an ancient group of conifers consisting of about 100 species. These species are distributed across tropical and sub-tropical areas of the Southern Hemisphere. As evergreen shrubs or trees, Podocarps bear leaves that are 0.05-15 cm long and feature a distinct midrib.

Most Podocarps are relatively small trees, growing up to 15m. However, the New Zealand Tōtara (Podocarpus totara) is a remarkable exception, reaching heights of 30-40m.

How Can Homeowners Benefit from Planting Illawarra Plum Trees?

For homeowners and gardeners, the Illawarra Plum can serve as an excellent ornamental tree, adding a touch of natural beauty to any garden. These trees thrive in well-drained, slightly acidic soil, and can turn yellow in alkaline conditions. Thanks to their non-invasive roots, they are particularly suited to locations with restricted soil areas, as they pose minimal risk of damage to nearby sidewalks or hardscapes.

Interesting Facts About the Illawarra Plum
  1. The Illawarra Plum is a native conifer and a source of bush food.
  2. Unlike other conifers, the Plum Pine bears a single seed attached to the branch.
  3. The fruit of the Plum Pine was considered one of the best bush foods by both Aboriginal people and European colonists.

Further Reading

  1. Illawarra Plum on the Australian Native Plant Society Website
  2. Growing and Caring for Illawarra Plum
  3. Podocarpus Elatus in the Australian National Botanic Gardens
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