When first relocating to this area, almost nothing was familiar. Even now, I only know a handful of plants well enough to say what they are with full certainty. All I was armed with to start were a handful of basic understandings. Simple things such as no grass native to North America is dangerous in it’s own right to humans (which of course is meaningless considering how many imported exotics end up here) or if something has a white sap, it is probably not edible without extensive preparation. So what did I do?
Well, I first tried to find someone who knew the local plant life. Even someone who wasn’t particularly interested in survival would know the common names for a lot of the local plants. Next, I wandered around and took a lot of photos of any plant that happened to look unique enough to be unlike anything else. When I found such things, I made a point of getting very specific pictures of distinguishing traits. These pictures I would take back to have identified. Sometimes I was given an answer and could then go hunting on the internet for more details and visual confirmation that the common name locally matched with the one listed on the internet.
Some plants did not have a local name as they were exotics that were brought in and happened to like the muggy climate with oddly low rainfall. This is one such plant. It was brought in as a hedge and grows freely here without any care. I have seen it at the beach and in various yards or apartment buildings as a divider. What drew my was the red fruit with faint speckles. Bright red usually means edible or dangerous. Rarely is there a middle ground there. The scent was sweet and the plant was heavily laden with thorns. Again, my experience is that thorny plants tend to have edible fruits. Breaking open one of these fruit, I found it to have specks of white sap. That last was a bad sign, but not a deal breaker since there are a few white-sapped edibles out there. Little notes about the waxy leaves and five-petaled white flowers were made and I went hunting.
Following the distinctive information I got from inspecting the plant and a few hours of work researching, I discovered that the plant is a Natal Plum (Carissa macrocarpa). Relative of the Oleander, everything about it is poisonous, except the ripe fruit. Depending on the individual plant, it tastes something akin to a sweet cranberry or just-before-ripe cherry with a soft strawberry texture. As evidenced by its appearance along the beach, it tolerates salt well and obviously heat is no major issue for it. It has sterile seeds and has to be propagated through cuttings, not a big problem for me. What really matters to me most is that no one here seems to realize it is edible, let alone so tasty. It fruits year round in this climate and bright red berries are just waiting to be picked as often as I care to make a trip to where they grow.
The point to this of course is that it pays to do some deep research and learn what is growing around your area. Sometimes there is a bounty of untouched free delicacies just waiting around the next block. Obviously do everything in your power to ensure absolute identification and proceed with caution at first until you are sure you have no averse reactions. Once you have though, know that you may be rewarded with a rare delight you never even knew was there.