After the flames - Grass Tree mowhawks

Fire had rapidly swept through this forest landscape, burning these Australian Grass Trees 

These punk-looking plants are Australian Grass Trees. Actually, they are neither grass nor trees, but they are one of the most perfectly adapted Australian plants. And quite useful too.

A fire had rapidly swept through this forest landscape. The ground was still covered in black charcoal-like debris, while a carpet of green native grasses was shooting through the surface. A sprinkling of excess leaves shed by the still living gum trees gave the earth some shelter.

The tops of Grass Trees are highly flammable and burnt quickly in the fire, while the thick, lower stems are armoured against fires of this intensity, so the plants are still alive. They are quickly regrowing the spiky leaf forms that make them look familiar to any parent of punk teenagers.

The Grass Tree has wonderfully useful properties. First Nations peoples found they could extract resin from the bases and used it as a glue to affix cutting stones to axes, arrows and spears. The long flowering stems that take 20 years to grow could be used as spear shafts. The flowers themselves could be fermented in water to make a sweet alcoholic drink.

These facts come from Deakin University plant ecologist John Patykowski.

Seeds from the plant spout but then grow downwards at first. This anchors the plant’s growth tip safely under the earth before pushing upwards. The plant roots could be dug up and eaten, and the seeds ground into a flour.

Europeans used the resin in medicines for varnish and glue, and they burned it in churches as incense. The resin was highly valuable and was exported worldwide.

For me, this corroboree of resurgent Grass Trees is spectacularly beautiful in its own right, but even more so when the facts about this clever Aussie plant are better known.