Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney, Australia

Xanthorrhoea species

Xanthorrhoeaceae

Grass Tree

Wargalarra (wer-gal-derra) to Eora people

Description

These elegant, slow-growing plants are a unique part of the Australian landscape. There are 28 species of Xanthorrhoea and they are all native to Australia, with 13 species occurring in NSW. Grass trees have either an above-ground or below-ground woody stem, which is covered with packed leaf bases. The long, narrow leaves form a crown at the top of the stem and look like a grass skirt. Creamy-white flowers are crowded on the end of a long, spear-like flower spike. The stem and leaf bases hold a lot of resin. Grass trees regenerate quickly after fire, with new leaves sprouting from the blackened trunk.

Where it is found

Grass trees are found in many habitats, from rocky dry ridges to swampy heathlands. In New South Wales they occur along the coat and tablelands and in rocky sites out to the western plains.

Uses

  • Grass tree resin was an essential raw material in the manufacture of tools, weapons and other implements. The resin melts when heated but sets hard when cool. It was used to cement stone axe heads to wooden handles and spear tips to spear shafts (Turbet 1989).
  • Flowers can be sucked or soaked in water to make a sweet drink that can by used fresh or after fermenting.
  • The soft, white leaf bases are edible, as is the sweet growing point; however, removing this part destroys the plant.

Further information

Click here for further information on species of Xanthorrhoea.

Xanthorrhoea johnsonii
Grass Tree (Xanthorrhoea johnsonii). Woody flower spikes, used as spear shafts by Eora people, were called galun (callum).

Xanthorrhoea resin
Resin collected from a species of Xanthorrhoea. This material can be used like a glue to make a range of tools and weapons. These specimens of resin, held by the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, are over 100 years old and are referred to in Joseph Maiden's book The Useful Plants of Australia (1889).

Xanthorrhoea-species
Xanthorrhoea johnsonii: flowers on flower spike, mature fruits on spike, leaf base, habit.