Midgen Berry, also called Midyim Berry or sand-berry, is a bush tucker food native to eastern Australia. There are two plants which produce the dainty, white flowers which lead to small, speckled, greyish-purple fruit in late summer or autumn. Austromyrtus dulcis, sometimes referred to as ‘silky myrtle’, and Austromyrtus tenufolia, the narrow-leafed midgenberry, are both shortish, spreading shrubs. The shrubs are good-looking plants so can be grown in a native garden, an ornamental garden or a food forest. Like many natives, they respond well to hard pruning. I would imagine that they could be used as an informal hedge or trimmed to any shape the gardener desires.
The fruit, produced from spring to autumn, is quite soft and doesn’t travel well. We have found that if picked and left for a day or two, the fruit quickly shrivels, therefore is best picked and eaten immediately. It has been our experience that each berry contains only one or two seeds but other sites state up to eight seeds. Ripe fruit comes off the plant at the slightest touch so I hold a container directly under the fruit and just touch it – if it falls off, it’s ripe and the container makes harvesting an easy task. I recommend that you use a smallest container, getting a larger one between the branches of an established plant can be a bit tricky! You can see the ripe fruit fairly easily, it is light in colour, almost white. This probably makes it more visible to birds too so you may find you have to net your plant for a couple of months! We will almost certainly be trying this next season!
I have noticed that, with this unusually wet summer (2021-2022), that there is a second flush of flowers so it will be interesting to see if we get another flush of fruit too! Better get that bird netting ready, just in case!
Where to Grow Midgen Berry
Our plant is growing on the eastern side of the house in native soil to our area in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. The soil is covered all year with a mulch of slowly-rotting wood chips. Basically we have been treating it like all the other natives we grow and it has not been very productive. Being in a bush setting, there are lots of birds so it is possible that the reason for the lack of productivity is the result of thieving birds! A well-maintained plant should, in theory, produce lots of fruit.
Anna Gregory, based in Sydney and author of the excellent sustainability-based site, Small Green Things, states that the shrubs should be planted in part-shade to full-sun, in well-drained soil. Ms Gregory suggests that the plants respond well when compost has been added to the growing medium. She was, at the time of writing the article in 2016, experimenting with growing one in a pot.
Angus Stewart, former presenter on Gardening Australia, on his website, Gardening With Angus, recommends a sheltered position, protected from frost. He recommends sun for at least half a day – perhaps that is why our plant produces sporadically: it only gets a couple of hours of sun in summer and little to none in winter.
How to Grow Midgen Berry
The plants can be bought at garden centres or nurseries. However, if you know someone who has one, you could try growing new plants from seeds or cuttings. We are currently attempting to grow new plants from seeds from this year’s crop. After fifteen days, we have had one seed germinate. The seeds are known to take three to four weeks to germinate but they are not the kind of seed that takes over your garden – after nearly eight years of living here we have never seen a baby Austromyrtus under our plant!
Fun Final Fact
Midgen Berry plants are related to Lilly Pilly. The fruit of both species can be used to make jams.