In central Australia, the wild plum (Santalum lanceolatum) is a clonal shrub about 3 m high with drooping, bluish-green, leathery leaves. The creamy white flowers produce an olive-like fruit that matures from green to purple to black. It is found throughout the central Australia area, but is described as being uncommon, especially in areas that are subject to heavy grazing by cattle, camels and rabbits. This is likely due to its limited fire tolerance, its semi-parasitic nature on the roots of other shrubs and trees and the fact that fruit is only ever produced after rain. Rain events in central Australia are not common and are noted only for their consistent variability. It only grows wild, and is not cultivated. This plant is known in other areas of Australia and is listed as threatened in Victoria.
The wild plum has been an important food in central Australia for tens of thousands of years. The proportion of edible flesh is relatively low, so it cannot be classified as a staple food. The fruit has a quite pleasant taste and dried fruits, collected from under the bush, are easily reconstituted in water. Some indigenous groups are believed to also roast the shell, remove the seeds and grind them into an edible paste, while other indigenous groups use the ground paste as a medicinal ointment. Red juice squeezed from the fruit is sometimes used as a dye.
The wild plum has been an integral part of the central Australian Aboriginal culture and traditions for tens of thousands of years. It is a powerful totemic, with its own sacred sites and as well as being an important food source, is also used as a medicine. The introduction of cattle, camels and rabbits has already reduced the abundance of this shrub and with the change in land use, wild fires are causing rapid ecological changes. More importantly, the continuing loss of knowledge of indigenous cultures and traditions, particularly the complex interrelations between earth, plants and people, poses the greatest threat to this plant.
Indigenous/Tribal community: Luritja and Pitjantjatjara
Kuuturu, Mangata, Walku, Wayanu (Pitjantjatjara)