Xantorrhoea australis: Call me Grass tree not Black Boy

Xantorrhoea australis: Call me Grass tree not Black Boy

So much to be said about this native Australian plant – Xantorrhoea australis (Xanthorrhoeaceae). I took a photograph of her on Bruny Island during an afternoon walk to Mark’s Point on North Bruny last week. X. australis is most commonly referred to as “Grass Tree”. The trunk, which is not no be seen on this photograph, used to grow a couple of meters high. However, today such a height is rare. And so is, in fact, the entire species, therefore it is protected. X. australis easily becomes a victim of the soil-borne disease Phytophthora cinnamomi (root rot).

The stem you can see on this photograph will be later completely covered by the small white flowers. The flowering is stimulated by fire. The mechanism is not well understood, but it was found out, that mechanical wounding of the leaves has the same effect. The flowers produce sweet nectar, which the Aboriginal Australians consumed (usually by soaking the flowering spikes in water to make a sweet beverage). The soft basal parts of the leaves were also eaten.

Aborigines call this plant “yacca” (or “yamina” in Tasmania). The nickname “Black Boy” given to the plant by immigrant Australians is offensive to the Aborigines. Hence, everyone will be better off using one of the other provided names when referring to Xanthorrhoea australis. If you would like to see one alive, pop down to North Bruny Island. It is one of the rare places on Earth with still a few of them around!

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