I'm a beginner gardener so I'm sure this is no big mystery, but nobody I've asked has been able to identify this very healthy and prolific plant that self seeded in our garden. It has lots of fruit and I want to know if it's something edible or not! Thanks! Allegra
Does anybody know what this plant is?
Your plant is one of the so-called Kangaroo Apples. There are three species of these and the best way to tell them apart is by a close-up of a flower. They are in the nightshade genus Solanum, many of which are poisonous, but the fruit of two of the three Kangaroo Apples are edible.
I suspect from the very slender leaves and leaf pinnae, that yours is
Solanum vescum: http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/128735/
which has edible fruit.
The other with edible fruit is Solanum laciniatum: http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/128135/
The third species is the commonest and is the one which should not be eaten, Solanum aviculare:http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/112388/
The name Kangaroo-apple given to this plant suggests that the fruit might be eaten by kangaroos. This is not the case, the name actually relates to the shape of the leaves. On a young plant, the leaves are unbranched, but eventually develop multiple broad pinnae. There is an intermediate stage, where some of the leaves have a single branch pinna on one side only. This leaf shape then resembles a kangaroo's footprint, which has one long toe and one slighly shorter toe beside it. This naming system is shared with the Kangaroo Fern - Microsorum pustulatum, whose fronds go through the same succession of shapes.
Solanum laciniatum is widespread, but not common in my area of Eastren Victoria in Australia, often growing in rocky areas. The ripe berries are yellow to deep orange and were eaten by the local Aboriginal people, the Ganai, though only when fully ripened. The very similar Solanum aviculare, is much commoner, but the fruit were considered too poisonous to eat. Solanum vescum mostyly grows in sand dunes around the coast of Victoria, and the Koori people often burned area to generate a fresh lot of Solanum vescum plants for their fruit.