Plant Profile: Riberries

by Mark Henley

The Riberry, Syzygium Luehmannii, is a native Australian plant that deserves widespread planting and eating.

Heavy riberry crop at Kingswood

The small tree or large bush occurs naturally in the rainforests of northern NSW and Southern Queensland and produces, in the author’s opinion, the best flavoured fruit of all Australian Syzygium (lilli pilli) species. Its common names include clove lilli pilli and small leaved lilli pilli while it is a relative of the culinary clove from Asia, Syzygim Aromaticum, so the fruit of the riberry gains some of the spice flavours from its more tropical relative.

Apart from producing a subtle tasty fruit, the riberry is a beautiful small tree with pink-lilac new growth, deep green leaves, a strong showing of clusters of cream spring blossom and spectacular bunches of white – pink berries in Autumn. It is grown as a street tree in Sydney, including close to the Harbour and no doubt other parts of NSW.

The individual fruit is about 1 cm in diameter and coloured white through to rose-red. Each fruit contains a single hard seed, which is a minor annoyance when eating the fruit. The fruit has a crisp lilli pilli texture and mild clove flavour.

In South Australia, riberry grows well in the Adelaide Hills and with a little protection early in life can grow very well on the Plains too. The photos in this newsletter are from a tree in Kingswood.

Growing: In their natural environment, riberries grow in well drained, compost rich soils with a pH in the range 4.5 – 5.5 however they appear to tolerate a range of soil conditions, thriving in soils with a pH below 6.0, but will cope with neutral soils too.

As with most subtropical plants being grown in SA, heavy clay and sandy soils need to be improved with plenty of organic matter, for heavy soils to improve drainage and for sandy soils, to improve moisture retention. Mulching and regular watering, particularly in the establishment phase, is crucial.

Indications are that they will cope with temperatures as low as 0 degrees for short periods but are damaged with extended exposure to temperatures below minus 2 degrees Celsius. Our hot, dry northerly blasts in summer are not enjoyed by riberries so some protection from dry summer heat is needed during establishment, but they seem to be able to cope with heat once they have matured, assuming that they are well mulched. High heat at flowering is likely to reduce fruit set.

They seem responsive to standard organic fertilisers, smaller amounts more frequently being preferred.

Pests: While riberries are quite robust, scale and associated sooty mould can be a problem, but this can be controlled with pest oils. Sadly, myrtle rust was first detected in NSW in 2010 and is a major threat to Australian bushland as the entire Myrtaceae family is susceptible, including riberries.

Varieties: There is some limited commercial production of riberries and there have been some superior fruiting selections made with Australian Native Foods and Botanicals (ANFAB) reporting that “Glovers Seedless” and “Vic’s Choice” are two of the preferred varieties available in the Eastern states. These varieties are probably not available in South Australia and won’t be imported due to myrtle rust, so maybe it’s up to Society members to identify our own superior selections?

Riberries will be one of the varieties included in the Rare Fruits Garden at the Adelaide Botanical gardens and seedlings will be sometimes available through Society plant sales and can be found at some native plant specialist nurseries.

More information:

Riberry Recipe

Riberries can be added to a range of sweet and savoury recipes, including muffins, meatloaf and are part of my Australian Christmas mince pie mix, along with midgim and muntries. The classic French desert, clafoutis is excellent with riberries instead of the traditional cherries.

Riberry Clafoutis

• 120gm almond meal
• 30gm cornflour
• 200gm caster sugar•pinch of sea salt
• 4 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
• 2½ tbsp cream
• 60gm butter, melted and cooled
• 250gm fresh riberries
• 1 tsp dried, ground cinnamon myrtle leaves (Backhousia myrtifolia) – optional

Heat the oven to 170°C and lightly grease a ceramic pie dish with butter. Individual dishes can also be used.

Combine the almond meal, cornflour, sugar and salt in a bowl and mix well.

In separate a bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolks, keep whisking and add the cream and melted butter. Then blend the dry ingredients into the egg mix until combined, fold in the riberries and cinnamon myrtle, if using.

Pour the batter into the tart dish and bake for about 30 – 35 minutes until just set.

Cool the clafoutis a little and dust with icing sugar and serve with whipped cream, ice cream or anything else that seems a good idea at the time.

This article is from our March 2021 Newsletter. © Rare Fruit Society S.A.

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