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Native Cherry

As well as producing a sweet edible stem, Australia’s native cherry has important ceremonial and protective properties.

The native cherry (Exocarpus cupressiformis), also known as cherry ballart, cypress cherry or wild cherry belongs to the sandalwood family and is endemic to Australia. A partial parasite, the tree lives in harmony with the host tree, particularly eucalyptus, without causing it any harm. The plants work together to support each other and in Aboriginal teachings, it is used as an example of how working together is of benefit to all.

The native cherry also has important spiritual and protective purposes in relation to the spirit women, Marlimas


Known as mamaadja in Dhurga (the Indigenous language of the south coast of NSW), the native cherry favours forests, shallow soils and granite outcrops throughout New South Wales, Queensland and eastern South Australia, and can grow up to eight metres tall.

It flowers throughout the year but mainly from October through to May. The leaves resemble yellowish-green stems, on the end of which a cluster of small inconspicuous flowers forms. Only one flower per stem turns into fruit, which is a small green woody nut. The stem on which the nut is attached then starts to swell, turning from green to yellow before ripening into a deep red globular ‘cherry’.

Sweet And Edible

This swollen stem is high in sugar when it’s ripe, and a good source of potassium and fibre. It can be cooked or eaten raw when ripe by biting the red flesh away from the nut. The fleshy part is similar to a persimmon, while the woody nut has no known nutritional value. If you eat the fruit before it is ripe, native cherries are really astringent. It’s difficult to harvest ripe stems in any sort of numbers, so the fruit is usually eaten straight from the tree.

Ripe fruit attracts parrots, possums, bandicoots, snakes and other game that can be hunted. Birds disperse the seed through droppings after their acidic digestive juices have weakened the nut, which allows for better germination.

Cherry Wood

The colour variation of the timber, combined with its suitability for carving and turning, meant early settlers valued it for making things. And because of its conical shape, the native cherry tree was used by early settlers as a Christmas tree, a practice that continues to this day.

Its strong, pale fine-grained timber was used by Aboriginal people to make spear throwers called woomeras, and bullroarers, which men swing over their heads to create a sound believed to be the voice of the Creator calling men to ceremony.

Spiritual Stories

The native cherry also has important spiritual and protective purposes in relation to the spirit women, Marlimas. Known as the sirens of the bush, the Marlima are extremely beautiful, their looks and song are hauntingly irresistible which entices men into a trance-like state. The Marlima then have the ability to lure men to their death and increase their own strength by feeding on their souls.

Women are not affected by the powers of the Marlima and can protect the men by chanting an affirmation while waving branches of native cherry between themselves and the Marlimas. The Marlimas cannot approach the tree or its branches because it robs them of their power.

Protective Properties

Over the years there have been many stories of sightings of Marlima women, particularly around the shores of Wallaga Lake on the south coast of New South Wales by both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. Aboriginal children are cautioned to be wary of the Marlima and their song, and are encouraged to seek refuge near native cherry trees.


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