Plant names are important. Just like people having their own names with at least two parts, plants need names to tell them apart when we are talking about them. They have botanical names, common names and names in the language of local people. Botanists (plant scientists) who discover or study a new plant get to name it, but common names are like nicknames used by people in everyday life. The Davidson’s Plum first collected in North Queensland has three names: Davidsonia jerseyana (its botanical name), Davidson’s Plum (its common name), and Ooray (its Aboriginal name). There are also three different species of Davidson’s plum which all have the same first name (genus name ‘Davidsonia”) and different second names (the species names).
The Davidson’s Plum is named after John Ewen Davidson, the ‘owner’ of the land at Rockingham Bay where the tree was first found in the 1860’s by John Dallachy, a plant collector. John Ewen Davidson was a sugar cane farmer who was regarded in history as a successful pioneer but we now know that he was involved in murderous raids on local Aboriginal people, and used the slave labour of people forcefully brought from Polynesia to work on his sugar plantations. Not such a good man after all…
Found in the rainforests of tropical Eastern Australia, Davidson’s Plum trees produce an edible, sour fruit with purple skin and bright red flesh that curiously grows directly from the tree trunk or from thick branches (called ‘cauliflory’ like a cauliflower!). This very sour fruit is eaten by native animals, and by humans as bush tucker jam, sauces and desserts.
The seeds of the Davidson Plum need to pass through the gut of animals to germinate. The tree kangaroo chews the plump, juicy fruit first and then digests it with the help of stomach juices, but the cassowary can swallow it whole. Digestion can take hours to days, during which time the animals may have wandered kilometres from the parent tree. The broken-down fruit and seeds are excreted by the animal, giving germination a kick start of fertiliser, resulting in a successful seed spread.