I’m always keen to add to the number of plants I can recognise. Weeds are a profitable group in that respect.
Recently my wife pointed out an interesting looking organic rubbish heap on the grounds of Massey University that was home to an odd-looking Solanum. Imagine my delight when, on closer inspection, I found it to be not a weedy exotic but a real indigenous treasure: Solanum aviculare.
Solanum aviculare is one of two similar species known as poroporo. The other is Solanum laciniatum, which is very common and widespread through New Zealand. Solanum aviculare, on the other hand, is on the Threatened Plants lists as “At Risk/Declining”. I have never knowingly seen it before, so I was very excited!
Handily, at this rubbish heap the two species of poroporo were growing together, facilitating easy comparison. Although their leaves were strikingly different here, the best way to distinguish them is by their flowers: the petals of S. aviculare are less fused and more deeply cut than those of S. laciniatum.
The DISASTER comes because a week after taking these pictures, this rubbish heap was “cleaned up” – an unfortunate demise for this rarity! Hopefully we can find more S. aviculare locally.
Both poroporo species have similar fruit, which can be eaten when they are ripe (when orange, with bursting skin). However, they’re poisonous when green and unripe, so be wary! They belong to the same genus as tomatoes, potatoes, and black nightshade, and the same family as deadly nightshade. It’s a minefield of nutrition and toxicity.
Interestingly, both Solanum aviculare and S. laciniatum occur in Australia, where they are known as kangaroo apple.