One of my annoying mantras oft repeated: “weeds are just plants growing where you don’t want them to grow!” but this does not apply to Solanum viarum aka Soda Apple.
As you might notice from the botanical name, it is another one of the huge group of flowering plants that includes tomatoes and much more.
It originates in Central and South America and needs to be eradicated in our area before it becomes the biggest problem that farmers and landholders could face in the next few years.
It is a Notifiable Weed in NSW and potentially, if a farmer has it on his or her property and bales grass and hay and transports it, they can face a fine of $10,000. Disastrous consequences for our farming communities after a series of difficult seasons.
During the drought of 2019 we were buying round bales for our own little herd ($285 each!). Feed was so scarce, we bought it wherever it could be sourced, and most small holdings were doing the same. The consequence was the introduction of new invasive weeds including this one.
We avoided herbicide and manically worked cutting and painting the stumps with half strength Roundup. Pruning before flower and berry set helped but the seeds remain viable for many years, so it becomes a never ending job. Cuttings on the ground easily develop roots so they need to be bagged and disposed of (not into green bins please) or burnt.
If not removed it spreads rapidly, and those seedlings grow into very prickly trees. Then it’s a huge problem, reducing access, limiting biodiversity, and disrupting other biological processes.
Cattle eating the fruit and the berries which float on water are the source of most infestations but our recent floods have helped exacerbate the spread. I often notice large specimens along roadsides and highways and hope that the Councils are paying attention to the eradication. Landcare groups should be aware of this weed.
The plant is distinctive, openly branching with large, serrated leaves. The trunk, branches, leaves and even the tiniest twigs are covered in huge prickles. The creamy flowers are profuse, and the berries are pale green, becoming mottled as they mature.
Even the immature berries are packed with viable seeds. Perhaps like me, you will now notice them and please, eradicate on sight. Become an Activist Weed Warrior, it WILL help.
There are other unwanted invasive plants in our region; some are very familiar but these are relatively recent, spreading rapidly. As every gardener knows, those plants growing where we don’t want them are robust survivors and need to be dealt with when young. Please wear thick gloves when doing so.