Santalum is genus which extends beyond Australia. There are about 8 Australian species. The members of this genus are root parasites in that their roots attach themselves to the roots of other plants and gain part of their growth requirements from the host species (hemiparasitic).
Santalum acuminatum is probably the best known Australian member of the genus as it is an important “bush food” in the drier areas of the country. The plant has attracted a degree of commercialisation and products derived from the fruits (jams, chutneys, etc) can now be purchased quite widely.
It is a large shrub or small tree to about 3 metres in height with simple, greyish-green leaves. The small white flowers occur in clusters and are followed by 25 mm diameter fleshy fruits which turn bright red when ripe. The seed within the fruit is protected by a hard, woody shell. The seeds are spherical and around 10 mm in diameter.
Propagation and establishment of quandongs is a challenge, mainly due to the parasitic nature of the plant.
Propagation by seed is the usual method but pretreatment is needed to enable moisture to reach the embryo. One method used is to saw a nick into the hard shell to expose the kernel and then to sow with the nick facing downwards. Another method is to extract the kernel by placing the seed in a vice and carefully cracking the hard coat. The seed needs to be sown with a host plant such as native perennial grass, legume, herb, shrub or prostrate species. Germination may take from 3-12 weeks.
When planting out, the quandong and the host should both be planted. While quandongs are adapted to growth and survival in arid to semi arid conditions, young plants must not be allowed to dry out.
Propagation by grafting onto seedling stock is becoming more common as particular forms are selected for their desirable fruiting characteristics.