A selection of macadamia nuts in a large spoon.

A Guide to Edible Australian Natives

By Jennifer Stackhouse

Tags: achmena, Australian native plants, davidson's plum, davidsonia pruriens, edible, edible garden, edible natives, edibles, lemon myrtle, Lemon Scented Myrtle - Backhousia Citriodora, Lilly Pilly, macadamia, macadamia integrifolia, Macadamia Nuts, native plants, Natives, new zealand spinach, Syzygium, tetragonia tetragoniodes, warrigal greens

While traditional vegetables are grown in the vegie patch and fruit trees often planted in an orchard, native Australian edible plants can be grown throughout the garden as shrubs, trees and even ground cover plants. With edible plants in every part of Australia from the coldest to the tropics, there are lots of tasty treats available for gardens.

Some like madacamia, lilly pilly and finger lime are familiar, but others you’ll need to get to know including Davidson’s plum, lemon myrtle and Warrigal greens. There may even be native plants already growing in your garden that are edible but unrecognised, including the sweet flowers of the Australian native violet.

Most Australian native edibles are available as potted plants to grow year round. Grow the following plants in sun or part shade in any well-drained soil in a spot with protection from heavy frost. Use a native plant fertiliser annually in spring.

Davidson’s plum (Davidsonia pruriens)

This is a rainforest tree, but one that doesn’t get too big for a modern garden. It is slender, evergreen and has small plum-like fruit that form rather curiously on the tree trunk. The ‘plums’ are tart, so use them to make jam, chutney or sauce. Height: 5-20m; width: 2-4m. Can be grown in a large pot.

Finger lime (Citrus australasica)

The native finger lime is a small, thorny evergreen shrub, but its petite, oval (finger-shaped) fruit is tasty and rewarding to grow. Inside the skin are small, tangy beads of citrus pulp. This tree can be pruned and shaped. There are many named varieties with fruit with green, pink, red, yellow or orange tinged colours. Height: 2-7m; width: 2-5m. Can be grown in a large pot or as a hedge.

Several finger limes growing on a tree
Finger lime

Lemon myrtle (Backhousia citriodora)

Fluffy, white flowers and lemon-fragrant leaves are the pluses for this evergreen native tree. It is large, but it can be grown as a large shrub with regular pruning. The leaves are used for their flavour in teas or cooking while the flowers attract bees. Height: 3-20m; width: 2-5m. Can be grown in a large pot if kept pruned.

Lilly pilly (Achmena spp., Syzygium spp.)

There are many types of lilly pilly with lots of named cultivars, many with good pest-resistance. Lilly pilly is grown for its crisp but tart red or purple berries, which are used to make jam and preserves. The white flowers (often around Christmas) bring in bees and beneficial insects. Some varieties have flushes of colourful new growth. Grow for a windbreak, clipped hedge or as a topiary plant. Keep well watered in dry times. Height: 3-20m+; width: 2-5m+. Dwarf or compact varieties can be grown in a large pot if kept pruned.

The brightly-coloured berries of the lilly pilly
Lilly pilly

Warrigal greens, New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragoniodes)

Warrigal greens grow naturally along the Australian coastline. The plant has small, dull green, triangular, slightly hairy leaves and succulent stems. Those leaves can be picked and cooked as spinach. Look for seedlings or seeds to grow in a sunny spot. Tolerates salty conditions and regular fertiliser. Can be used as a ground cover plant for exposed positions. Height: 30-50cm; width: up to 2m.

Macadamia (Macadamia integrifolia)

Grown and loved for its nuts, macadamia is a native tree known around the world and grown commercially. Grow it as a productive specimen or shade tree in the garden. Pendulous white to pink flowers are followed by green fruit that contain the hard brown nut. Height: 5-12m+; width: 4-6m.

The green fruits of the macadamia tree. The well-known brown nuts are inside these fruits.
Macadamia fruits.

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Jennifer Stackhouse

Jennifer Stackhouse

Horticulturist, garden writer, blogger & editor.