African boxthorn is a member of the Solanaceae family, which includes other plants such as silverleaf nightshade, tobacco, and tomatoes. African boxthorn is an aggressive invader and it forms an impenetrable, spiny thicket. It is toxic causing discomfort and irritation but is not life-threatening. The berries, leaves, stems and roots are all poisonous and can cause nausea, vomiting, breathing difficulties and unconsiousness. African boxthorn was introduced into Australia from South Africa in the mid-1800s and was commonly used as a hedge plant.
Dangerous as this plant was with its berries and thorns, as kids we built cubby houses deep in the heart of the shrub and spent many happy hours there shielded from prying eyes. With a blink of an eye, they were a fort to protect the cowboys from the Indians or a castle where we had to rescue a damsel in distress or the bridge of a ship and we would fight off the pirates. It was even a place to curl up and read a book. I don’t ever remember being scratched, but I guess I must have been. I know I certainly was often in trouble for the stains the juice would make on my clothes. The boxthorn was so prevalent and such a feature of the area that many decades later the local high school was called Boxthorn College. These boxthorn cubbies were certainly our secret places and we felt safe there. I have no memory of ever being roused out by an adult.