Today’s photo shows the trunk-borne flowers of Davidsonia jerseyana. Although known as Davidson’s plum, this common name can be used to describe any of the three species within the genus.
Native to Australia, Davidson’s plums are part of the Cunoniaceae (the cunonia family). They were first described in 1867 as one species. In the ensuing decades, a re-examination of the morphological differences led to the taxonomic establishment of three distinct species. All three species (Davidsonia jersayana, Davidsonia johnsonii, and Davidsonia pruriens) have pinnately compound leaves, similar inflorescences, and large fleshy drupes. Davidsonia pruriens, the largest of the three species, is the only one of the three that is not listed as federally-endangered in Australia. Davidsonia johnsonii is the only one that’s not commercially cultivated. Davidsonia jerseyana is rare in its current native range, as it is confined to approximately one hundred sites in two river catchments (see: Davidsonia jerseyana in the Species Profile and Threats Database). While its distribution is limited (in part due to habitat loss), this species is now cultivated for its fruits or grown as an ornamental.
The fruits from all species resemble sour-tasting plums. Where available in quantity (or now in cultivation), these fruits are among the most popular kinds of bushfood in Australia (bushfood describes any Australian native species with edible properties, including but not limited to those traditionally eaten by the indigenous peoples). The large purple fruits are a characteristic feature of these trees, which are described as “Dr. Seuss-like” in a Guardian article. Each individual tree produces many fruit, and accordingly the species has commercial potential. The fruits are high in antioxidants due to the presence of anthocyanins. Australian Native Food and Botanicals describes them having an earthy aroma, “like fresh beetroot with slight pickled notes”, and having a sour and slightly bitter taste. Levels of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) apparently exceed those of oranges by 100-fold. Due to the high acidity, the fruits are generally not eaten fresh but rather incorporated into jams, sauces, or other flavoured foods. Along with being used as a less-sweet fruit addition into some recipes, a Davidson’s plum liqueur has become available. Retailing of these products is mostly restricted to Australia.
Being a species of the subtropical rainforests, Davidsonia jerseyana experiences high amounts of precipitation throughout its distribution and grows below 300m (~984 ft.) from sea level. Plants are commonly found growing in clusters, likely due to suckering. Adult trees are generally slender, with little to no branching until the top of the tree. Flowers mostly grow outward from the tree’s stem and are typically in bloom from October to January. Fruit ripening follows in December through February.