Native Sour Currant (Part 12)

Leptomeria acida [fruit & branch] sml.jpg

Sour currant bush. © JPM, 2022.

One of the most weird and wacky specimens of Aussie Bush tucker, can you picture a tree with fruit but no leaves? That's the native sour currant bush!


There are 17 species of this endemic Australian plant, all hailing from the genus Leptomeria (L.). The more prominent species include L. acida, L. aphylla and the Tasmania species L. drupacea. It is a popular bush food where it occurs and was called sour currant, native currant or acid drops by early colonists who sought the plant for its vitamin C. First Nations people gleefully helped themselves to this hardy shrub wherever it was found in fruit, sometimes bearing coolamon-loads of the delightfully tart berries from especially bountiful areas.

Habitat and Range

Sour currants are found only in Australia, sharing a similar wooded range as banksias (excluding the Top End) for good reason: banksias are one of the key species colonised by this hemiparasitic plant. They are typically found in well draining, sandy but poor quality soil amidst woodlands and heaths along Australia's eastern coast south of Gladstone to far eastern Victoria, with some species also present across central-western Victoria, South Australia (including Kangaroo Island), the Western Australian wheat belt region, and Tasmania. They are absent from arid or tropical regions of the continent.

Figure 1. Distribution of Leptomeria (all species) across the continent. Atlas of Living Australia.
Leptomeria distribution.png


Key Identifying Features
  • Small bushland shrub, 1-3 metres in height
  • Leafless!!
  • Branches can exhibit browning and green stripe patterns
  • Flowers in spring and summer
  • Flowers are tiny, white or red, with five petals and four or five anthers
  • Flowers set into tiny, 2-4 mm long red or green fruit in late summer or early Autumn (Feb-April)
  • Fruit may have faint white speckles on the skin, or translucent skin
  • Fruit has a red or black dot at the tip
  • Fruit has a crunchy but juicy texture with a single small seed
All sour currant species are very easy to identify. Look for a green, leafless shrub between 0.5 to 3 metres in height, typically between 1 and 2 metres. Older specimens may start to display browning on the trunk and thicker branches often with brown-green streaky stripes.

Figure 2. L. acida, a sour currant bush, centre of image. Royal National Park, NSW. Wikicommons.
Leptomeria acida [tree - RNP Sydney - wikicommons].jpg

Figure 3. Older specimen, L. acida, displaying green stripes along the browning branch. Royal National Park, NSW. Wikicommons.
Leptomeria acida [branch - RNP Sydney - wikicommons].jpg

While the plants do have true leaves, they are so tiny (less than 1mm in size) that the intrepid forager will never notice them. More noticeable, however, are the flower stalks extending from the branches from January through June. Flowers are usually red, yellow or white, with white-flowering species being more common in the south, especially Victoria and Tasmania, and red flowering species more common in NSW.

Figure 4. Tiny 2-3mm flowers of L. acida. Can you see the leaves? Neither can I! Flickr.
Leptomeria acida [flowers and branches - flickr].jpg

Figure 5. White flowers and purple berries of the Tasmanian L. drupacea. Atlas of Living Australia.
Leptomeria drupacea [flowers and fruit].jpg

Pollinated flowers give way to tiny (3-4mm), glistening green, red or mauve fruit globs, occasionally with minuscule white freckles on the skin. Each fruit contains a tiny, insignificant seed and a burst of delightful acidic goodness.

Figure 6. Ripe fruit of L. acida glistening in the winter sun. Dharawal National Park, NSW. © JPM, 2022.
Leptomeria acida [fruit and branch sunny] sml.jpg

Figure 7. Halved fruit specimen, L. acida. Note my fingers for scale! Dharawal National Park, NSW. © JPM, 2022.
Leptomeria acida [fruit zoomed].jpg


Sour currants may be enjoyed in situ as a refreshing, albeit sour, bush snack. In places where they grow abundantly, especially the Tasmanian species, loads of the fruits may be collected and added to salads for a sour zing, or else turned into delightfully tart jams, jellies, conserves and coolis/sauces for desserts. It is probably possible to emulsify these gorgeous berries into a tart curd after mashing and whisking them with egg yolks over a double boiler, akin to making lemon or passionfruit curd, due to their inherent acidity.

Due to the hemiparasitic nature of the plants, they are likely difficult to propagate from seed due to their need to latch onto the roots of a host plant for some of their nutrient intake. I have not attempted to propagate them from cuttings. They would make amazing edible ornamentals due to their leafless nature and colourful flower splays if the difficulties of their parasitic propagation can be overcome.
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