EARLY Europeans were fascinated by the ‘Xanthorrhoeas’, or “grass tree,” they are unique to Australia, used in a variety of ways and were incredibly important to the first nations people.
The ‘scape’ or long flower stem was used as a lightweight spear shaft and the resin that emanated after a fire was used as glue or waterproofing varnish.
The flowering scape could be soaked in water and made into a sweet drink, whilst the seeds would be ground up and made into flour. It could also be used for fire lighting.
There are different species of the ‘balga’ the aboriginal word, or as we know it simply as a ‘black boy’. It is thought that the wording came about because it has adapted to bush fires so much so that when burnt by the fire, which played an important part in its lifecycle by triggering flowering, its blackened form resembled a childlike black figure.
The common name grass tree is accurate as the trunk and branches are literally made from leaf bases, not wood.
It is thought that a grass tree could have a life span of some 600 years, with a stand of grass trees some 200-300 years old.
Grass trees have been referred to from time to time as ‘Yacca’ a name that may originate from the Kaurna people in South Australia.
Something like 45 years ago the Ipswich 4WD club had an agreement with the then manager of ‘Australian Hardboards’ at Camira to drive the dirt tracks in their huge timber plantation, for recreation purposes.
They closed their doors in 2010 after 52 years, citing unfavorable foreign exchange rates and cheap imports as the main cause of their demise.
The reason this is mentioned is that on one of our meanderings in the vast acres of the plantation with steep rocky hills, on the left, hundreds of grass trees were seen dotting the hillside.
It would have been a shame to see them fall to all the building works that have been going on in that area over the last 20 years.
Grass trees grow slowly, some 2cm a year and unless they are handled properly, they will die.
Should you want one, it’s best to buy from a nursery where they are sourced from reliable and registered wholesalers.
They can take over 20 years to grow a trunk and look magnificent as a standalone plant.
If you’re looking for a plant that has visual appeal for your garden, the bright green spiky leaves and the black trunk of an older tree definitely has that visual appeal for the visitor.
Its flowers are sought after by nectar-loving insects and seed-eating birds such as parrots and while your time is precious in the garden, you just don’t want a high maintenance tree to look after. Just plant them in the right spot and they will virtually look after themselves.
Another thing, if you have a small garden, you can still grow a grass tree because they are slow growers, they can be grown in a large container and will remain a similar size for many years to come.
Priced according to size, grass trees can cost from $50 to $750, depending on how tall, the age, whether they have multiple heads, or are nursery hardened.
Till next time.