Devil's fig (Solanum torvum)

Also known as: turkey berry, pea eggplant

Devil's fig is a shrub up to 3 m tall with large leaves and white flowers. It is an environmental weed that competes with native plants.

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How does this weed affect you?

Devil’s fig is an environmental and agricultural weed that can:

  • outcompete native plants
  • reduce shelter and food for native animals
  • form dense thickets that restrict movement of people and animals
  • compete with pasture grasses, reducing productivity
  • be poisonous to people and animals.

Human poisoning

Devil’s fig fruit are often eaten by people but they can contain a variety of toxins. The amount of toxins in the fruit varies greatly depending on the origin of the fruit and the environmental conditions that the fruit are exposed to. Extreme cases of poisoning from eating small amounts of fruit have included symptoms such as diarrhea, dizziness, slurred speech, partial paralysis, high blood pressure and respiratory failure.

What to do if a person is poisoned:

If the patient is unconscious, unresponsive or having difficulty breathing dial 000 or get to the emergency section of a hospital immediately. If the patient is conscious and responsive call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 or your doctor. If going to a hospital take a piece of the plant for identification or take a photo and take it with you to the hospital.

Livestock poisoning

Devil’s fig contains steroidal glycoalkaloids, and calcinogenic glycosides, which can cause weight loss and lameness if eaten in large amounts over a long time. There are no reported cases of poisoning in Australia.

What does it look like?

Devil's fig is an erect perennial shrub up to 3 m tall it sometimes has prickles on the stems and young leaves.

Leaves are:

  • green on top and greyish green on the underside 
  • oval shaped or often lobed with up to 7 blunt lobes per leaf 
  • up to 30 cm long and 15 cm wide  
  • hairy on both sides
  • cream coloured along the mid-vein, which sometimes has prickles
  • alternate along the stem
  • on stalks up to 5 cm long.

Flowers are:

  • white
  • star-shaped with 5 petals
  • up to 25 mm wide
  • in clusters of 15 to 100
  • present all year round.

Fruit are:

  • a round berry
  • 12-17 mm in diameter
  • green, ripening to yellowish green or yellow
  • black when dry.

Seeds are:

  • white, pale yellow or dull brown
  • 1.5-2.5 mm long.

Stems are:

  • green or purplish when young
  • brownish green or brown when older
  • very hairy when young, then have less hairs as stems mature 
  • sometimes sparsely covered with prickles, which are 3-7 mm long.

Roots:

  • consist of a deep taproot with many lateral roots and rhizomes
  • are woody and tough.

Similar looking plants

Devil’s fig looks similar to many other solanums including two other weed species:

  • Giant devil’s fig (Solanum chrysotrichum), which is taller (up to 4 m) and has larger leaves (up to 35 cm long), more prickles on the stems and brown hairs on new growth.
  • Tropical soda apple (Solanum viarum), which does not grow as tall and has larger fruit (that are mottled when immature) and generally wider leaves. The flowers are in clusters of up to 6 rather than up to 100 and the prickles are usually longer (12 mm).

Where is it found?

In NSW devil's fig grows in the North Coast region and a few plants have been found on the central coast of the Greater Sydney region. 

It is native to Central and Southern America and has spread throughout tropical and subtropical parts of Asia and Africa.  

What type of environment does it grow in.

Devil's fig mostly grows in tropical and subtropical climates. It can tolerate a wide range of conditions but prefers moist fertile soils. In drought conditions it sheds its leaves to survive.

It has been found:

  • in gardens
  • in woodlands, forests and rainforest margins
  • along waterways 
  • in pastures especially under paddock trees
  • in disturbed sites such as roadsides.

Maps and records

  • Recorded presence of Devil's fig during property inspections (Map: Biosecurity Information System - Weeds, 2017-2021)
    These records are made by authorised officers during property inspections under the Biosecurity Act 2015. Officers record the presence of priority weeds in their council area and provide this to the NSW Department of Primary Industries. Records reflect the presence of the weed on the date of inspection.

How does it spread?

Birds, flying foxes and other animals eat devil's fig fruit and spread the seed in their droppings.  Seeds are also spread by water and contaminated soil.

Plants have been spread by people intentionally planting it in gardens for the small fruit or as root stock. It is used as root stock for egg plants (Solanum melongena) and if the plants are not maintained the rootstock will fruit.

References

Bean, A.R. (2012 onwards). Solanum species of eastern and northern Australia. Version: 6th September 2018. Retreived 07 September 2021 from https://www.delta-intkey.com/solanum/www/torvum.htm

CABI (2019). Data sheet: Solanum torvum Turkey berry. In: Invasive Species Compendium. Wallingford, UK: CAB International.  Retrieved 07 September 2021 from:https://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/50559

Cuda, J. P., Gandolfo, D., Medal, J. C., Charudattan, R., & Mullahey, J. J. (2002). Tropical soda apple, wetland nightshade, and turkey berry. In F. Van Driesche,  B. Blossey, M. Hoodle, S. Lyon, R. Reardon (Eds). Biological Control of Invasive Plants in the Eastern United States. United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. Forest Health Technology Enterprise Team. Morgantown, West Virginia. FHTET.pp 293-309.

Identic Pty Ltd. and Lucid central (2016). Environmental Weeds of Australia Fact sheet: Solanum torvum Sw. Retreived 7 September 2021 from: https://keyserver.lucidcentral.org/weeds/data/media/Html/solanum_torvum.htm

McKenzie, R. (2012). Australia's poisonous plants, fungi and cyanobacteria: a guide to species of medical and veterinary importance. CSIRO.

Ranil, R. H. G., Niran, H. M. L., Plazas, M., Fonseka, R. M., Fonseka, H. H., Vilanova, S., ... & Prohens, J. (2015). Improving seed germination of the eggplant rootstock Solanum torvum by testing multiple factors using an orthogonal array design. Scientia Horticulturae193, 174-181.

Richardson, F. J., Richardson, R. G., & Shepherd, R. C. H. (2011). Weeds of the south-east: an identification guide for Australia (No. Ed. 3). CSIRO.

More information

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Control

Successful weed control relies on follow up after the initial efforts. This means looking for and killing regrowth or new seedlings. Using a combination of control methods is usually more successful.

Protective clothing should be worn to prevent injuries from the prickles on the stem of the plant.

Ensure roots and cut parts of the plant are not left on the ground as they may re-shoot. If the plant has fruit, collect and dispose of them to reduce the amount of follow up weed control required.

Physical removal

Seedlings and small plants can be dug out with a mattock. Larger plants can be cut down and the roots dug up. 

Chemical control

Spot spraying

Spray actively growing plants with herbicide and a wetter. Cover all of the foliage and stems with herbicide. Spraying will not kill the seeds in the fruit so it is important to collect the fruit and dispose of it.

Cut stump

Cut the stump and then quickly apply the herbicide gel. Apply a 3–5 mm layer of gel for stems less than 20 mm. Apply a 5 mm layer on stems above 20 mm. Collect the fruit and dispose of it safely.

Disposal

Fruit may be burnt in a hot fire. Check the burn site regularly for seedlings. Contact your local council for advice on other ways to dispose of the fruit.

Herbicide options

WARNING - ALWAYS READ THE LABEL
Users of agricultural or veterinary chemical products must always read the label and any permit, before using the product, and strictly comply with the directions on the label and the conditions of any permit. Users are not absolved from compliance with the directions on the label or the conditions of the permit by reason of any statement made or not made in this information. To view permits or product labels go to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority website www.apvma.gov.au

See Using herbicides for more information.


PERMIT 12942 Expires 30/06/2022
Glyphosate 360 g/L with Metsulfuron-methyl 600 g/kg (Only products registered for aquatic use)
Rate: 2 L Roundup plus 10 g of Brushoff in 100 L of water
Comments: A wetter must be used at a rate of 500 mL per 100 L. Apply a maximum of 2 times per year at a minimal interval of 60 days. Ensure spray covers all foliage and stems as incomplete application will result in regrowth.
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: M, Inhibitors of EPSP synthase
Resistance risk: Moderate


PERMIT 12942 Expires 30/06/2022
Picloram 100 g/L + Triclopyr 300 g/L + Aminopyralid 8 g/L (Grazon Extra®)
Rate: 350 to 500 mL per 100 L of water + wetter
Comments: A wetter must be used at a rate of 500 mL per 100 L. Apply a maximum of 2 times per year at a minimal interval of 60 days. DO NOT use products containing picloram and triclopyr within 5 m of a waterway. Ensure spray covers all foliage and stems as incomplete application will result in regrowth.
Withholding period: Where product is used to control woody weeds in pastures there is a restriction of 12 weeks for use of treated pastures for making hay and silage; using hay or other plant material for compost, mulch or mushroom substrate; or using animal waste from animals grazing on treated pastures for compost, mulching, or spreading on pasture/crops.
Herbicide group: I, Disruptors of plant cell growth (synthetic auxins)
Resistance risk: Moderate


PERMIT 12942 Expires 30/06/2022
Triclopyr 300 g/L + Picloram 100 g/L with Metsulfuron-methyl 600 g/kg (Various products)
Rate: 350 to 500 mL of Grazon plus 10g of Brushoff in 100 L of water
Comments: A wetter must be used at a rate of 500 mL per 100 L. Apply a maximum of 2 times per year at a minimal interval of 60 days. DO NOT use products containing picloram and triclopyr within 5 m of a waterway. Ensure spray covers all foliage and stems as incomplete application will result in regrowth.
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: I, Disruptors of plant cell growth (synthetic auxins)
Resistance risk: Moderate


Picloram 44.7 g/kg + Aminopyralid 4.47 g/L (Vigilant II ®)
Rate: Undiluted
Comments: Cut stump application. Apply a 3-5 mm layer of gel for stems less than 20 mm. Apply a 5 mm layer on stems above 20 mm.
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: I, Disruptors of plant cell growth (synthetic auxins)
Resistance risk: Moderate


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Biosecurity duty

The content provided here is for information purposes only and is taken from the Biosecurity Act 2015 and its subordinate legislation, and the Regional Strategic Weed Management Plans (published by each Local Land Services region in NSW). It describes the state and regional priorities for weeds in New South Wales, Australia.

Area Duty
All of NSW General Biosecurity Duty
All plants are regulated with a general biosecurity duty to prevent, eliminate or minimise any biosecurity risk they may pose. Any person who deals with any plant, who knows (or ought to know) of any biosecurity risk, has a duty to ensure the risk is prevented, eliminated or minimised, so far as is reasonably practicable.
North Coast
Exclusion zone: whole region excluding the core infestation area of: Ballina Shire Council, Byron Shire Council, Kyogle Council, Richmond, Lismore Council, Valley Council and Tweed Shire Council
Regional Recommended Measure*
Whole region: The plant or parts of the plant should not be traded, carried, grown or released into the environment. Exclusion zone: The plant is eradicated from the land and the land is kept free of the plant. Land managers mitigate the risk of the plant being introduced to their land. Core infestation area: Land managers reduce impacts from the plant on priority assets. Land managers mitigate the risk of the plant spreading from their land to neighbouring properties that are not currently infested with not currently infested with the weed or exclusion zones.
*To see the Regional Strategic Weeds Management Plans containing demonstrated outcomes that fulfil the general biosecurity duty for this weed click here

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For technical advice and assistance with identification please contact your local council weeds officer.
For further information call the NSW DPI Biosecurity Helpline on 1800 680 244 or send an email to weeds@dpi.nsw.gov.au

Reviewed 2021