The riberry tree is medium to large-sized and occurs naturally in littoral and subtropical rainforests, in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland, and in tropical rainforests of northern Queensland. In the wild, the tree occasionally grows to 30 metres high and has a buttressed base. The leaves are small and glossy and the crown of the tree is dense and sits above the tall trunk.
The fruit is a small pear-shaped berry, 10–15mm long, red–pink in colour, and with white flesh. Riberries are harvested from late November through to mid-January and need to be refrigerated or frozen as soon as possible. They will keep in the refrigerator for up to three weeks and frozen for up to two years.
Riberry has long been a food source for Indigenous Australians, as a raw fruit, and for early European settlers who used the fruit in jams and cordials. Wild harvest of the fruit declined through the 1990s, and newly established plantations came into full production, capable of meeting market demand by the early 2000s.
Cultivated plantings are important to meet market demand for consistent year-round supply of the fruit, and to address concerns about the environmental impact of wild harvesting in the often fragile and fragmented, littoral and subtropical rainforest systems.
Facts and figures
- The riberry (or lilly pilly) was one of the first edible plants to be noted during Captain Cook’s visit to Australia in 1770
- The riberry is found in coastal rainforests in north east New South Wales, south east Queensland and far north Queensland
- Estimated annual production of riberry is four to five tonnes per annum
- The fruit has a tart, spicy flavour and is used in a wide range of sweet and savoury food products
- Cutting-grown trees, used to establish plantations, can produce 3–5kgs of marketable fruit in their third year
- Mature trees have been known to produce up to 70kg of fruit in a year
Accurate information is not readily available for the native foods industry but a stocktake of the industry published in 2012, provides good estimates of industry characteristics, production figures and product value.
Around 70% of production was by a company that produces product from several subtropical properties in New South Wales and Queensland, which collectively total 6,000 trees on 60 hectares. The company was established to create a critical mass in terms of supply of fruit and to create economies of scale for the purchase of inputs. There are five growers in the industry considered commercial producers, some of whom participate in the riberry company previously mentioned. The balance of riberry production comes from smaller-scale producers (10–20), who value-add their fruit and distribute primarily through farmers markets. Wild harvested fruit is a minor supply source, and mainly a supplementary source of product when yields of cultivated fruit are low.
Riberry alone would not generate sufficient income for a business to be viable or sustainable. Typically, riberry is grown as one enterprise in a business that grows a combination of native foods and other crops, such as seasonal vegetables or subtropical exotic fruits. In terms of business diversity, one business may have up to ten different species in production.