Australian Native Plant Profile: Wombat Berry (Eustrephus latifolius)
Common Names: Wombat Berry, Orange Vine
Scientific Name: Eustrephus latifolius
Synonyms: Eustrephus angustifolius, Eustrephus brownii
Wombat berry (Eustrephus latifolius) is a tuberous-rooted, evergreen, twinning or multi-stemmed scrambling vine reaching 6m high on suitable trellis. It may scramble and form a clump 3m across when grown without support.
Characteristic features of wombat berry
Eustrephus latifolius has attractive, small flowers that fringed margins on the inner three of six white to pale pink petals. As it name suggests, Wombat Berry produces plenty of showy orange berries which persist and en masse can be used as a long, colourful display through Winter. The berries also attract fruit eating birds, and the tuberous roots attract wombats and other native root-eating mammals. Wombat berry is moderately fast growing but not excessively vigorous which is handy as it's unlikely to smother other plants. Eustrephus latifolius is an adaptable plant that thrives in sun or partial shade. It can tolerate extended periods of dryness once established. Wombat berry will grow on most soil types and even tolerates light frost. Eustrephus latifolius suffers from no major pests or diseases.
Horticultural uses for Eustrephus latifolius
Wombat berry can be planted at the base of trees and allowed to grow up them to provide added interest. Alternatively they can be trellised along fenced or used to form dense multi-stemmed ground-covering clump without support. Eustrephus latifolius can be used as part of an edge planting or ground cover when grown this way. Wombat berry makes is an excellent plant for growing in a hanging basket, its foliage will trail over the sides of the pot and form a cascade.
Indigenous use of Eustrephus latifolius
People from various indigenous races of Australia ate the small underground tubers of Eustrephus latifolius both raw or baked. The tubers of Wombat Berry are reported to have a sweet earthy flavour when eaten raw, I have eaten Wombat Berry tubers personally and can confirm this and although the sweetness is mild they are not unpleasant. The thin, crisp, white aril inside the fruits of Wombat Berries were also eaten but the numerous black seeds and skin was discarded. I have also eaten the white arils but the quantity of seed and small amount of flesh means that a lot of harvesting and processing is required to get a decent edible portions from the berries. The white arils of the berries unfortunately possess little in the way of flavour. The vine-stems of Eustrephus latifolius stripped of leaves were also used to tie objects which including their use in food preparation. The 19th century European botanist Baron von Mueller noted that the tubers of Wombat Berry could be suitable as a large scale food crop if enlarged through culture and breeding, unfortunately little progress has been made towards this end.
Limitations when planting Wombat Berry
Wombat berry is likely to be out-competed by more vigorous plants and as such should not be planted where it may be over-run by other more vigorous climbers or groundcovers.
Ideal conditions for growing Wombat Berry
Eustrephus latifolius is commonly found in growing in sandy soils on hillsides in open forests, dry woodlands, heathland and rainforest margins all the way along the East coast of Australia and into Melanesia, New Guinea and New Caledonia. Wombat berry does best in dappled shade but it can handle full sun once established. Wombat berry prefers to grow in a location that receives even rainfall throughout the year, allowing a constantly a moist soil to be maintained, maximizing growth. Eustrephus latifolius prefers growing where there is a mildly acidic to mildly alkaline soil pH.
Culture of Eustrephus latifolius plants
Enrich the soil prior to planting Wombat Berry by adding humus. Ensure the soil is free draining before planting your Wombat Berry plants. Trim and tip-prune you Wombat Berries regulary to encourage a comapct habit and promote heavier flowering. Eustrephus latifolius should be pruned to contain its size once flowering has finished as required. Eustrephus latifolius plants benefit from the addition of organic material to the soil each year during Spring, avoid damaging the underground tubers while doing this. Container grown Wombat Berries can be fertilised with a native plant fertiliser in Spring to promote growth. Propagation of Eustrephus latifolius is achieved easiest by using fresh seed, although cuttings and layerings will also strike if they are kept moist and allowed plenty of time to develop roots. Large, well-established scrambling patches of Wombat Berry can be dug and divided in Spring and replanted in other areas of the garden.