Australia. Large, isolated, arid. We get a sense of this just by looking at postcard images or watching television programmes featuring outback travel. Yet, there are other ways to experience just how wild, how different Australia can truly be. In the company of a very knowledgeable friend, who majored in and is quite the expert in geography, the Ninja Turtle went on a walk and learnt a little bit more about Australia through its flora.
A walk through the Warriparinga nature reserve.
The name means “windy place by the river”.
Warriparinga is a ceremonial meeting place for the Kaurna people of South Australia.
The site is also home to native plants and animals.
Upon entering the Cultural Centre, they were greeted by the sight of artists, working on contemporary aboriginal art.
After a brief chat and observation of the dyeing techniques, it was onwards through to the wetlands, where the real adventure began.
This is a nesting box for birds and possums. They are usually oriented west, facing away from the winds. In Australia, people can buy these and install them in their own backyards to invite the birds to their gardens.
See those reeds? These are called bullrushes, and the Aborigines traditionally used them as cables in raft-building to bind up the wood. They also ate the roots of this plant.
Australia is a harsh place and survival is tricky. Identifying what you could eat without it eating you first, or killing you from the inside, is quite a remarkable skill. While some of these plants don’t merit a second glance from most of us, the indigenous Australians have identified what they could exploit to maximise their survival in such a harsh territory.
This is a sheoak tree, also known as casuarina. There are male trees and female trees.
The sheoak resembles a pine in several ways – instead of leafy foliage, it has spindly needles which are segmented. When pulled apart, it reveals tiny “teeth”, the real leaves. The female sheoaks’ fruits resemble a pine cone.
Apparently, the Aborigines consume this spiky, woody little fruit to help slake their thirst. The Ninja Turtle found the taste to be acidic and astringent; and extracting the tiny amount of sap from its wooden spikes wasn’t really worth the effort in the end.
Spindly needles in place of leaves, woody and unpalatable fruit… starting to get an idea of just how harsh the Australian climate is? Plants have evolved some truly incredible adaptations to survive, and even thrive in this country.
Fruits that wait for a fire to come along before they explode to release their seeds into the winds.
Ask any foreigner to name as many Australian plants as they can think up of, and chances are, the eucalyptus is always going to be the first/only one mentioned. With good reason too! The air in Australia tingles with the scent of eucalyptus, and the sailors who used to traverse the Indian Ocean would remark that 40km from the shore, as they come in to Western Australia, claimed to be able to smell the eucalyptus from that distance away.
The word eucalyptus means “well-covered”, as the flowers of the eucalyptus were protected by a little “cap” that would eventually fall off to reveal the blossoms.
Of course, the eucalyptus is well-known for its oil, which has medicinal properties in microdoses, but is toxic in large quantities. This oil is found within the leaf, which has a leathery texture, present as globules.
FUN FACT! Know how sunflowers turn to face the sun? Well, eucalyptus leaves do the same! Except… they face the sun with their profiles (sideways) rather than with their surfaces. This is an adaptation to reduce heat stress and water loss.
Eucalyptus trees have another very cool feature – epicormic buds on their trunks. In the event of a bushfire, all is not lost! These epicormic buds will sprout new shoots and life just goes on. As the saying goes: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
When the plant suffers an attack by disease or insects, it grows “galls”. This is the plant equivalent of a tumour, and can present on the trunk or leaves. On the trunks, this wooden growth is sometimes favoured by furniture makers or woodworking craftsmen.
What plants do you think best represent the country you live in?