Photo: D.E. Symon 1668 D.E. Symon

Leap Year Bore. Photo: M. Fagg  M. Fagg

Photo: P. Canty P. Canty

Photo: M. Fagg  ANBG

Alice Springs. Photo: T. Low  T. Low

Line drawing by M. Szent Ivany, J. Adelaide Bot. Gard. 4 (1981) 189, fig. 76.

Distribution map generated from Australia's Virtual Herbarium.


Solanum ellipticum R. Br., Prodr. 446 (1810)

T: Broad Sound, Qld, 25 Sept. 1802, R. Brown s.n.; lecto: BM; iso: MPU; fide D.E. Symon, J. Adelaide Bot. Gard. 4: 188 (1981).  An image of the lectotype sheet can be found on the Solanaceae Sourcesite.

S. lithophilum F. Muell., Linnaea 25: 434 (1853). 

T: Flinders Ranges, S.A., Oct. 1851, F. Mueller s.n.; lecto: MEL 11873; iso: MEL; fide D.E. Symon loc. cit.

S. ellipticum var. chillagoense Domin, loc. cit. T: Near Chillagoe, Qld, Feb. 1910, Domin s.n.; iso: PR n.v. 

S. ellipticum var. horridum Domin, loc. cit. T: Near Cloncurry, Qld, Feb. 1910, Domin s.n.; iso: PR n.v. 

S. ellipticum var. mollibaccalis J. Black, Trans. Roy. Soc. S. Austral. 52: 227 (1928). T: Finniss Springs, Lake Eyre Basin, S.A., F.D. Warren s.n.; holo: AD 97614116. 

S. ellipticum f. albiflorum Domin, loc. cit. 

T: Near Chillagoe, Nov. 1910, K. Domin s.n.; n.v.

S. cleistogamum Symon, Trans. Roy. Soc. S. Austral. 95: 227 (1971).

T: 20 miles N of Onslow, 1 July 1967, D.E.Symon 5418; holo: PERTH; iso: AD, CANB. K, L.

S. ellipticum var. typicum Domin, Biblioth. Bot. 89: 588 (1929), nom. illeg.

S. dianthophorum auct. non Dunal; Symon, J. Adelaide Bot. Gard. 4: 191 (1981) p.p. (excluding type of the species).


Sprawling, clonal, perennial herb to 1 m diam., usually pale green or grey-green, the growing tips often purple, densely pubescent with stellate hairs; hairs often tufted and woolly on stems and lower leaf-surface; prickles to 10 mm long, scattered to abundant on stems, petioles and peduncles, sparse or absent elsewhere.  

Leaves ovate to elliptic; lamina mostly 4–8 cm long, 2–3 cm wide, slightly discolorous, entire to undulate; petiole 1–5 cm long.  

Inflorescence 1–7–flowered; peduncle 1–8 cm long; rachis 1–3 cm long; pedicels 8–11 mm long, lengthening in fruit. Calyx mostly 6–10 mm long; lobes triangular with linear apices, 5–8 mm long. Corolla rotate to rotate-pentagonal, 20–30 mm diam., purple. Anthers 4–5 mm long.  

Berry globular to slightly obovoid, 15–20 mm diam., pale yellow-green, often tinged purple; fruiting pedicels usually 15–20 mm long. Seeds 2–3 mm long, pale buff. n=12.

The circumscription of S. ellipticum varies somewhat. The species is common and widespread and very variable. Since the 1981 treatment of Symon, Bean (2004) has recircumscribed it to include S. cleistogamum Symon, considering that the WA specimens (including the type) of S. cleistogamum are not sufficiently distinct from Queensland specimens

Two informal taxa are recognised in the NT Herbarium, var. Foothills (G.J.Leach 1145) and var. Ranges (D.E.Albrecht 5807).

Distribution and ecology

Widespread in Qld, northern N.S.W., southern N.T. and S.A., with scattered localities in W.A.  

Occurs on ranges and plains in heavy clay and sandy soil; usually absent from flood plains of rivers.

Common name

Potato Bush, Potato Weed


Considered by Bean (2004) to be a member of the S. ellipticum group of subgen. Leptostemonum.



A very variable species, with three main forms: the typical form (moderately prickly, leaves relatively large) is widespread in arid areas; a prickly form occurs on ranges in Central Australia; a small-leaved form occurs on the upper Eyre Peninsula, mainly west of the Flinders Ranges.

Prickly forms approach S. horridum Dunal ex Poiret and S. cleistogamum Symon in Central Australia; smaller specimens approach S. terraneum Symon in W.A., while on the north and north-eastern margins of its distribution, plants approach S. dianthophorum Dunal.

The Northern Territory herbarium recognises two unpublished varieties, var. Foothills (G.J.Leach 1145) and var. Ranges (D.E.Albrecht 5807) in their Census: see

A staple plant food in Central Australia (see P.K. Latz (1995). Bushfires & Bushtucker. Aboriginal Plant Use in Central Australia. IAD Press, Alice Springs).

Information on the food composition of the fruit of S. ellipticum can be accessed through the NUTTAB 2006 (Nutrient Tables for use in Australia) database of the Food Standards Australia New Zealand.

Selected specimens

W.A.: Mt Tietkens, A.S. George 8945 (PERTH). N.T.: c. 12 km E of Harper Springs boundary, 16 Aug. 1956, G. Chippendale (AD, NT). S.A.: Paralana Springs, D.E. Symon 6003 (AD, CANB). Qld: Windorah, Sept. 1966, T.O. Browning (BRI). N.S.W.: Tibooburra, May 1913, O.E. Couch (NSW).

Plant status, if any

Conservation status as a plant of least concern in theNorthern Territorysee

From the web

Flower and fruit are shown at the Australian Plants site at and an image of a bush with flowers and fruit can be seen on an Alice Springs Town Council site.

Further information for this species in WA can be found on the FloraBase site, a fact sheet can be downloaded from the SA eFlora site and information and images of this species in NSW can be seen on the PlantNET site..

Further images and links for this species can be found on the Solanaceae Source site.