Carissa ovata (APOCYNANCEAE) Currant Bush, Kunkerberry

Plants to Plant

A sparse shrub to 3 m with thorny stems in dry and subtropical rainforest, eucalypt and brigalow. Milky sap in branchlets and leaves. Hardy. Attracts birds and butterflies. Thickets provide good small bird habitat. Found growing in dry rainforest remnants in Enoggera catchment and increasingly planted in restoration work. Leaves are glossy, opposite and oval-shaped. Paired spines between leaf bases — not in the leaf axils like the similar Strychnine Tree Strychnine psilosperma.

WARNING: To be edible, the fruit has to be completely ripe with no discernable milky sap (which is poisonous). This is from a plant family containing many poisonous plants including Oleander species.

Green fruit. The fruit still has milky sap at this stage and is poisonous. Photo: Robert Whyte


White clusters of sweet-smelling, five-petalled flowers in mostly in summer but also throughout the year. This type of plant is excellent in the Enoggera catchment. The spines which can become quite large are likely to have evolved as a protection from Australian megafauna, now extinct. Aborigines are reported to have used the milky sap as a linament for rheumatism. Host plant for many butterflies including Common Crow and moths including Hawk Moths. Easy to propagate with fresh seed collected when the fruit is very ripe.

Photo: Robert Whyte


When growing in the open like this the leaves become tough and show more prominent venation. In the open it becomes a compact bush and is regarded as a pest by graziers. In the drier western parts of its range C. ovata intergrades completely with the very closely related C. lanceolata which is distinguished by having longer, narrower leaves. C. lanceolata also has a less robust growth form with plants reaching rarely reaching 2 metres in height.

Photo: Robert Whyte