The Quandong or native peach is a native Australian tree which belongs to the Santalaceae family and has the botanical name of Santalum acuminatum. It is also known as the sweet, desert or Western quandong. When in full fruit, the tree droops with its crop of bright, red fruit and is quite beautiful.
‘Santalon’ is Greek for sandalwood tree and ‘acuminatum’ is from the Latin meaning slender or pointed. This is a reference to the leaves. The sandalwood tree proper (Santalum spicatum) is another of the Santalum genus and a close relative of the quandong.
The quandong is found in semi-arid areas of all mainland Australian states and is an important ‘bush food’ tree to Australian aboriginals. Early settlers used the fruit in jams, pies and jellies. Early explorers probably avoided attacks of scurvy by consuming the quandong fruits. The seed of this variety has a sweet, almond-flavoured taste. Some species have a distasteful seed, which is caused by methyl benzoate, an aromatic oil present in some varieties.
There are about 8 Australian species in the Santalum genus. The main characteristic of the genus is that the members are root parasites. They attach themselves to the roots of other plants through haustoria and gain some of their nutrients and water from the host plant. Nitrogen-fixing plants such as acacias and she-oaks are favourites as hosts.
Such is the popularity of the quandong that products derived from the fruit are now quite widely available in the form of jams and chutneys.
The small tree (or large shrub) reaches about three metres high. The lance-shaped leaves are an attractive greyish-green. The flowers are small, white and occur in clusters. These develop into bright red, 25mm diameter fleshy fruits. Within the fruit, a hard, woody shell protects spherical seeds of around 10mm diameter. Before the days of plastics, the wooden, pitted seeds were used as stud buttons, beads and as marbles in checkerboard sets.
The quandong is not particularly fond of rich soils and in the wild is found mostly on sandy and stony soils. In the Northern Territory, it is believed that decreasing number of trees is the result of destruction by grazing camels. The quandong is tolerant of high saline levels and trials are being conducted to improve the quandong to a point where it is more commercially viable as a food crop than it is at present.
The quandong can be grown by seed but the hard shell must be penetrated to allow moisture to reach the kernel. Germination may take from 3 to 12 weeks. Young plants should not be left too long before being planted out with a host plant. It will need some moisture until it is established. Grafting is also becoming more popular as a means of ensuring duplication of favourable traits.
The quandong is as native to Australia as the kangaroo and, to the aborigines, probably just as important as a food source.