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City success for exotic plant

25 July 2006

A species of plant more suited to much hotter climates is making its home in the warmer temperatures of London.

The kangaroo apple plant, spotted in London, is more suited to hotter climates.

The kangaroo apple plant is more suited to hotter climates but has been spotted growing in London, UK.

The kangaroo apple is originally from southeastern and western Australia but has recently appeared in areas around London such as the Globe Theatre, St Pancras and in Fitzrovia.

Milder winters mean the plant can survive where previously a frost would have proved deadly.

Museum identification

Westminster City Council sent a specimen that was found growing in Churchill Gardens in Pimlico to the Natural History Museum for identifdication. Museum plant expert Roy Vickery identified it as Solanum laciniatum  also known as kangaroo apples.

Solanum are members of the nightshade family and include a wide variety of plants such as tomatoes, potatoes and aubergine (eggplants).

The kangaroo apples are a small group of about 11 species of endemic Australian shrubs with purple flowers and tomato-like fruits.

Similar species

'The leaves of different species of kangaroo apple look very similar and the species can be hard to distinguish from each other,' said Museum plant expert Dr Sandy Knapp. Solanum laciniatum is most similar to Solanum aviculare G. Forst (also called the kangaroo apple) and can be distinguished as follows:

  • Solanum laciniatum has more rounded flowers with ruffled edges and yellowish green or orangish fruits
  • Solanum aviculare has flowers that are more star-shaped and bright red fruits
Poisonous fruits

The fruits look like small tomatoes and should never be eaten as they contain alkaloids that are very poisonous especially when the fruits are unripe.

Industrial steroids

In New Zealand and the ex-Soviet Union, kangaroo apples were used in the chemical industry for the production of industrial steroids, one of which is diosgenin, the substance used in human contraceptives.

Cultivation

The kangaroo apple Solanum laciniatum  was introduced to Britain by pioneering botanist Joseph Banks in 1772. They have proved popular in British gardens as they grow quickly and produce spectacular flowers.

Further Information