The wild passionfruit (Capparis spinosa var. nummularia) is a native Australian spiny medium sized dense shrub about 1.5m high and 2-3m in diameter and is restricted to the central third of Central Australia. It has round leaves and large white feathery flowers. The fruit, which begin to develop in early summer, are green and inconspicuous and look similar to caper berries, which gives rise to the plant’s alternative name of the caper bush. It grows usually around the coast and inland along rivers. It is easy to not see the bush and its green fruit until late in summer when the fruit quickly ripen and turn yellow. This show of colour brings birds and ants that can strip all the pulp and seeds from the bush in a short time.
The main threat to the continued existence of the wild passionfruit is simply lack of use. The indigenous people have been dispossessed of their traditions and cultures and very few now live in the area where the wild passionfruit grows. Extremely hot wild fires, which now occur from time to time, can kill the plant, but wild passionfruit is tolerant of cooler fires such as those used by the indigenous people of the area for tens of thousands of years.
The land management techniques practiced by indigenous people for thousands of years indeed involve fire, an element that has a crucial role in many aspects of these communities’ lives (environmental, social, cultural, spiritual…). Using controlled fires, a knowledge that is gradually lost, enabled for example to prevent hot incontrollable wildfires to develop, and helped biodiversity and the land to regenerate.
The indigenous people usually picked the fruit when they were green, allowing them to ripen off the bush. The yellow pulp is consumed and has a taste not dissimilar to other passionfruit. However, the black seeds are not eaten, as they are very bitter.