(Photos: E. Cousins; growth habit, fruits and leaves, close-up of fruit; Cape Jervis)
OK, the fruit shown in the close-up is ‘ruby’…but simultaneously on the bush you might see green, yellow, orange and red ones! The green ones are the new fruit, but the colour changes as those fruit ripen. These are small (about 5mm), succulent and shaped like a squished ball. Flowers and fruit occur over most of the year, making this an important food source for birds. The sprawling shrub is low-growing, often just knee-high, though the branches can reach 1m. These are covered in cylindrical, fleshy blue-green leaves, about 1-2cm long. The leaves in turn are covered in fine hairs (‘tomentose’), which are responsible for the bush’s greyish colour, but also aid in reflecting heat which might otherwise damage the plant. Ruby saltbush is found in most poor soil types across Australia, from sand to clay, but prefers those that are slightly saline and not boggy. It is hardy, being drought and frost tolerant…handy on the peninsula!