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Quandongs - Cracking the code by Richard McDowell - The Native Gardener

By Richard McDowell
26 August, 2020

Quandong seedling.jpg

The term ‘Bush Tucker’ was undoubtedly made famous by the Bush Tucker Man, Les Hiddins, back in the 1980s. Recently there has been an explosion of interest in the subject with numerous new Australian edible species becoming available on the retail market, one bush tucker species remains iconic, if not somewhat elusive to growers. Growing across a wide range of southern Australia from inland desert regions to coastal. One of the main issues with the Quandong being commercially available is germination and our author has cracked the code (excuse the pun). 

The Quandong (Santalum acuminatum) produces fruit with a bright red edible flesh packed full of antioxidants and vitamin C. Underneath the flesh lies a shell that resembles a miniature brain and this in turn encases the kernel. A hemi-parasitic Australian native, the Quandong has been extensively studied by the CSIRO, universities, Agriculture departments and more for over a century and yet it is not readily available to the retail buyer, either in specialist native nurseries, garden centres or mass plant outlets associated with major hardware chains !

Quandong fruit 1.jpg

The fruit, although often referred to as a berry (the term ‘cherry’ is commonly used in Noongar culture), is a Drupe. That hard shell under the flesh must be breached for the kernel sealed inside to germinate. This is where much in the way of the urban myth comes to the fore, with tales of having to chase after emu poop, to soaking in bleach are thought to be true. The hemi parasitic angle also causes much confusion, but the Quandong can be grown successfully on its own for up to a year without the need for a so-called host.

The first step of course is to break that hard outer shell and this can be done in many and varied ways – nut crackers, a vice, hammer, specially designed tools, TNT(just kidding) and it never ceases to amaze the inventive ways some folks manage this task. The aim here is not necessarily to physically remove the kernel from the shell, but to simply crack the shell. There is a distinct audible sound when this occurs. Shells do often splinter or even explode during this procedure, but the kernel can simply be sown by itself. With cracking complete, the shell (or kernel) is simply placed into a tub of damp, “composty” potting media or similar and placed into a dark, damp environment.

Quandong fruit 2.jpg

There are several variations used on this theme, but generally, Quandongs favour dark, damp environments for germination and compost piles will work quite well too. Germination, that is the emergence of a radicle, can take place anywhere from 4 weeks to 6 months. You can set your own regime for checking the germination tubs, but fortnightly works well. There are no guarantees however and it is very much a numbers game. Fresh seed, collected in September to November, is best cracked and sown from the following February. Seed that is up to 5 years old will still germinate, but fresh seed does have the edge. Mass germination tends to occur from April through to July. Germinated seed can simply be removed and placed into pots. This takes a certain amount of care, as the radicle is extremely vigorous and can reach up to 50cm within two weeks. The radicle at this stage is very fragile and extreme care is needed not to break it off when potting up. Once potted, the new Quandong can take from 6 months to a year to grow into a suitable size for planting out.

Germinated Quandongs can be placed into a pot containing a suitable host, but the need for a host is really needed when the young seedlings are planted out. It’s at this stage they should be planted into an environment containing an already established native vegetation system containing several Acacia species and more.

You can see more of the Author’s work with Quandongs at his Facebook page – The Native Gardener or pop into APACE in Fremantle and ask for Captain Quandong in person.