Wildflowers, Photos and Grass Trees

Grass Trees are a distinctive part of our landscape and they are only found in Australia. We see them often as we travel around, making dramatic silhouettes against the skyline, or signalling new life after a bushfire.Image Could Not Be Found

We have a few photos – hopefully some EO readers will also have some photos of these amazing plants that they are willing to share.

Characteristically grass trees have blackened trunks surrounded by a skirt of rough grass-like leaves up to a metre in length, all topped by a long spear-like flower spike that in some species may be a meters long.

The Latin name for the genus is Xanthorrhoea (pronounced Zan-thor-ria)

They are flowering plants distantly related to the lily family – they are not true grasses. There are about 30 species of Xanthorrhoea and they are found in all states including Tasmania. One species, Xanthorrhoea thorntonii, the Tate Grass Tree grows in arid areas of Central Australia.

Not all grass trees develop an above-ground stem or trunk, in which case there is just a tuft of leaves at ground level. In those species that do form a trunk some species are unbranched, and others naturally grow numerous branches.

Flowers vary Image Could Not Be Foundfrom white to cream and are borne on a long spike with a long bare stem that can be up to four metres long in some species. There is a distinct flowering period, which varies for each species. Flowering can also be stimulated by bushfire. The spikes are packed with strongly scented small flowers that attract a wide variety of insects, birds and mammals that act as pollinators.

These remarkable plants have a lifespan of 600 years but are very slow-growing with the trunk taking a decade to form initially as it is composed of a mass of old leaf bases held together by a natural resin.

Aborigines collected the flakes of resin from around the base of the trunk, heated them, and rolled it into balls to be later reheated, softened and used as a glue for making tools. The long smooth flower stalks could be used as spears. They also lit fires by rubbing two pieces of the dry flower stalk together, soaked the fresh flower spikes in water to make a sweet or slightly fermented drink, and used the tough seed pods as knives to cut meat. Image Could Not Be Found

European settlers harvested the resinous gum to make varnishes and lacquers. During World War II many cans of tinned food sent to Australian troops in the Pacific had a protective coat of grass tree varnish to stop the containers rusting.

Now grass trees are much sought after for landscaping. With the necessary permit, the removal of these plants from land marked for clearing and replanting them later is one way of saving the plants. This ensures the plants will live on for generations to come. They require very little water and maintenance. Even in cultivation grass trees attract a wide range of lizards and insects that shelter in the plant’s massive foliage. The flowering spear of the plant attracts honey eating birds, bees, ants, and butterflies.

Some of the more common species that we are likely to see in our travels include:

Xanthorrhoea australis, is native to South Eastern Australia, and known as the Australian Grass Tree or Kangaroo Tail. It has very long, thin, grass-like leaves up to one metre and is generally found among rocky hills. It is the most commonly seen species of grass tree. Its fire-blackened trunk can grow up to several metres tall and is often branched. The main way to identify the different species is by looking at the cross-section of the leaves. In the case of the Xanthorrhoea australis, the cross-section is a rough diamond shape, and the colour of the leaves is a bluish-green. It is not often seen in bloom because this species requires fire to stimulate flowering. The skirt of leaves of will be almost spherical in shape.

Xanthorrhoea macronema is found in Queensland and New South Wales.
It is tufted and trunkless with many flexible linear leaves about 1 metre long that rise from the ground. The cream flower spike has a 1.5 metre stem, while the flower spike varies in length from 5 to 13 centimetres. From a distance the flower spike resembles a banksia flower. It flowers in spring to summer.

Xanthorrhoea preisii is from Western Australia and is also known as the Western Grass Tree. It has an upright or slightly twisted trunk that can reach 6 metres at maturity. It likes sand, sandy loam, loam or gravel soils.Image Could Not Be Found

Xanthorrhoea minor is small with a slender flower spike. It is widespread on poor sandy soils and native to Tasmania.

There are some other Australian plants with a similar appearance to Xanthorrhoea. The Kingias that are seen in the Stirling Ranges of WA have at times been confused with Xanthorrhoeas and mis-named as grasstrees.
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Reply By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 18:32

Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 18:32
Hi John and Val
Here are a few pictures from various parts of mainland Australia. Typical, there are lots growing here around the hills of Clare but I do not have any pictures of them, how slack of me.

Cheers

Stephen

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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 18:52

Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 18:52
Thank you Stephen, those photos are just what I am hoping for. Until I did the research for this post i was not aware that there was a species of grass tree in the really arid areas so I'm thrilled that you have been able to put up a photo of one. Now there is a plant that must grow really slowly!

Cheers,

Val
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Reply By: Member - barry F (NSW) - Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 18:42

Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 18:42
Thanks for that interesting post John & Val, they are indeed a great plant. We purchased one about eleven years ago for our front yard, it was fairly tall at the time of purchase and is now about 1.2 metres tall ( & looks about the same height as when we bought it eleven years ago!!)

It's trunk has lost the blackness caused by fire, but under advise from an Australian Native Nursery, we are reluctant to stick a bit of a fire under its backside to smarten it up a bit. They were horrified when I asked if it would be OK to give it a bit of a gentle burn with an LPG blow torch!! LOL, so I got back in my kennel & behaved!

The same Nursery had quiet a number of varying sized Black Boys for sale, all quiet expensive & there was one about the size of ours for sale at $480.00

Cheers & happy travelling.

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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 20:32

Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 20:32
Thanks Barry for your post. Given how long it takes them to grow its hardly surprising that they cost a bit to buy. Hopefully yours will flower soon.

Cheers,

Val
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Reply By: rocco2010 - Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 19:18

Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 19:18
Gidday

Thanks for that John and Val Just been for a bit of a drive to a native plant nursery in Perth's outer southern suburbs and saw lots of grass trees flowering well. They stand out well in areas which have been burnt as the fire clears away the rubbish and grasses around them They are particularly good when seen in company with the wa christmas tree (nuytsia floribunda) I saw one patch that made me wish I had my camera with me As you are probably aware it has been a very dry year in Perth but if anything the Christmas tree flowers seem more intense orange than usual.

Cheers
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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 20:40

Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 20:40
Thanks Rocco. I would love to see the Christmas Bush in flower. Last year we saw some bushes without flower (late September) up on East Mt. Barren near Hopetoun. They are a strange looking plant, but I can imagine how good they must look now.

Cheers,

Val
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Follow Up By: rocco2010 - Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 21:18

Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 21:18
Hey Val, It's easy ... you just have to come to Perth in late November to see the christmas tree. You don't have to venture far. There is a great display along the freeway heading into the city from the south ... less than 10k from the CBD. I pass them every day and they started to flower a week or so ago. I sort of have little competition with myself each year as to when I see the first one . The jacarandas are in full bloom too (even tho they are not natives) and you ocasionally see the two in close proximity and just wonder about nature.

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Reply By: Member - Jack - Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 19:28

Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 19:28
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Wooly mammoths

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Last upload failed, so try these on for size, and if they are what you want, I will upload the rest.

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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 21:00

Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 21:00
Hi Jack,

Those would have to be the biggest grass trees that I have ever seen a photo of. Would love to see them "in the flesh", they are simply stunning. Can you tell us whereabouts they are? From the sign I guess its a National Park?

I think there may be a glitch in the photo uploading system tonight. One of my photos would not upload, and I see below that Mick O is having similar problems. But if you have any more photos please put them up when convenient.

Thank you,

Cheers,

Val
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Follow Up By: Member - Jack - Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 21:07

Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 21:07
Yes, they are in the Coolah Tops Nat Park in NSW, and they are confined to one area of the park, which is called the Grass Tree Walk. Just an amazing spot.

Coolah Tops is a relatively new Nat Park, and one of the very few where they are happy to not only let you have a camp fire, but allow (encourage??) you to use the timber laying on the ground. Plus, as of when we went there about 2 months ago, it was free.

Damn ... now I will have to kill you : )

Shall upload more piccies overf the rest of the weekend. I had to drop these down to 800x800 but I can email you the larger versions direct if that assists at all.

Cheers
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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 21:18

Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 21:18
Jack, last year we contemplated an overnighter in Coolah Tops, but opted instead for Goulburn River NP (very pleasant spot) as the Tops were covered with cloud. But now I really am kicking myself for not going to CT. Well its now on my "must go there" list, thanks to your photos.

Cheers,

Val
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Follow Up By: Member - Jack - Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 08:43

Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 08:43
There is also an area of Litchfdield Nat Park that has acres of them growing. A most amazing sight.

I now recall when I lived in Cairns, talking to a bloke selling them in black pots by the side of the road for about $20 each. When I enquired, he said he had just sold his land on the Atherton Table lands and had acres of these things growing, and the new owner wanted them off the property, so this bloke had hired a truck and digger and was cleaning up big time.

I will go through my stuff and see if I took any of the Litchfield trees.l

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Follow Up By: Member - Jack - Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 15:54

Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 15:54
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Reply By: Richard W (NSW) - Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 20:15

Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 20:15
John and Val,

It amazes me how wide spread they are.

Couple of mine.

Sillers Lookout Arkaroola:


Canning Stock Route:




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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 21:14

Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 21:14
Hi Richard,

Thank you for those beautiful photos. Yes they do seem to be very widespread - researching this post has been interesting and I have learnt a lot. I hope others have found it interesting.

Cheers,

Val
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Reply By: Mick O - Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 20:30

Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 20:30
John and Val,

from the Puntawarri Track. One group of the grass trees only in a long swale just where the track touches the Tropic of Capricorn.

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On the Puntawarri 2008


Cheers Mick


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Follow Up By: Mick O - Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 20:33

Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 20:33
Well that's interesting. Might have to refer that one to David I think. A glitch. There is a photo in the blogn as per link in the post.

Cheers Mick


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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 21:22

Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 21:22
Thanks Mick, I have now found another plant to watch out for on our next desert trip.

Yes there do seem to be some gremlins in the photo dept tonight.

Cheers,

Val
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Reply By: Motherhen - Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 21:02

Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 21:02
Hi John and Val

I love them as I grew up in an area where Black Boys are abundant; particularly on granite outcrops. We have seen their cousins in many places around Australia.

I have always planned to paint one on the back of our caravan, and there was a wonderful large multi headed one at North Dinninup. I never had the camera when we passed it it spring with white blooms on the many flower stalks. Last year we were ready to stop, camera in hand. We found the beautiful blackboy was dead.


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Follow Up By: Motherhen - Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 21:08

Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 21:08
Sorry about duplication (i deleted it but i still appeared) and omissions. I'll try again with the missing ones but shortening the title.

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Mh
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Reply By: Member - Heather G (NSW) - Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 21:19

Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 21:19
Hi John and Val,

Thanks for your interesting thread.
I love grass trees and have numerous photos of them however have rarely seen them with flowers on the spikes.

I can't remember just where I took these photos of the flowers as it is some years ago now.

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cheers

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Follow Up By: Member - Heather G (NSW) - Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 21:22

Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 21:22
Not sure what happened to the images. Pity as they were lovely close ups of the flowers.
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Follow Up By: Motherhen - Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 23:34

Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 23:34
Heather do try again, but put only a very short title. It may have been coincidence, but as the two that failed for me had longer titles i tried again with shorter and they worked.

Mh
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Follow Up By: Member - Heather G (NSW) - Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 07:02

Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 07:02
OK MH here goes....

I will try again and this time have also resized the photos .
They should show the flowers in close ups.

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Heather
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Follow Up By: Member - Heather G (NSW) - Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 07:04

Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 07:04
Unfortunately I repeated the mage so here is the second one.
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Reply By: equinox - Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 22:01

Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 22:01
Might be an old wives tale, however I've heard if you cut into the head of the plant with an axe or similar there is a fresh supply of a drinkable milk substance, though killing the plant in the process.

I've seen them north west of Cosmo.

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Alan

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Follow Up By: Motherhen - Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 23:42

Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 23:42
Hi Alan, if you chop into the head and remove some of the stalks, the inner end is soft and white and quite edible. Although moist, not really a substitute for a drink. As a bush food, this is one of many uses of the Xanthorrhea. Not an old wives tale.

Mh
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Reply By: Who was that again? (Vic) - Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 22:15

Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 22:15
Xanthorrhoea are a lovely species wherever they are found. There are around our area what were or are called "grass tree plains" that are great for growing grass for dairy stock. Some have been pretty dark soil with surrounding grey and sandy loam.

We purchased a turned bowl some years ago in Western Australia that is exceptionally light to be made of wood. It is from the trunk of Xanthorrhoea and I understand that the wood dust from the turning is potentially carcinogenic so a lot of protection is required by the craftsman. It is a beautifully made piece.
Cheers,
Who?
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Follow Up By: Motherhen - Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 23:52

Saturday, Nov 20, 2010 at 23:52
I hadn't heard that! My father made many lovely bowls from the 'heart'. Colours varied and were lovely. One was huge - it was amazing to find a stump so big. He also made me a tall vase from the tall section of the same stump. No precautions taken. My boys first wood turning attempts were on blackboy as it is far easier than jarrah which is an exceptionally hard wood to turn.

"I understand that the wood dust from the turning is potentially carcinogenic so a lot of protection is required by the craftsman."

Cheers

Mh
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Follow Up By: disco driver - Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 00:15

Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 00:15
Hi John and Motherhen,
It's probably only since the Asbestos issues hit the headlines that people started to be concerned about the "fibres" from the butt of the Blackboys.
(I refuse to call them "Grass Trees" because that's PC and I'm old, grumpy and definitely not PC).

The fibres are as bad as asbestos fibres as a carcinogenic material. Looking at them under a microscope you will find that they appear to have small barbs on them and these help to keep the fibres in the lungs.

Most woodturners today do not turn blackboy, but those who choose to generally use the following precautions. Effective dust extraction through microfilters, full protective clothing and a pressurised face mask. and a very thorough clean up of the workshop before shedding the protective mask and clothing, which then go into the wash on their own. It's nasty stuff.

I agree that the butts make very attractive turnings, keep them as they will appreciate in value as time passes and the "trees' become scarcer.

Disco
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Follow Up By: Motherhen - Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 00:21

Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 00:21
Thanks for the clarification Disco.

Mh
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Reply By: Member - Bruce T (SA) - Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 00:05

Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 00:05
Growing up as a child we had lots of these growing in the Mount Lofty Ranges, southern section. We used to use them for sword fights and we always called them yaccas.

Here's two from us.

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Cheers,
Di and Bruce
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Follow Up By: Member - Bruce T (SA) - Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 00:07

Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 00:07
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For some reason this didn't load.
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Reply By: Member - Marc Luther B (WA) - Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 01:09

Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 01:09
Hi J & V

Thanks for those beautiful photos, andnow I am determined to go out around this area and have a look if any such gorgeous plants exist around here. That is unless someone tells me that they would not exist in the Great Sandy Desert.

Cheers
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Follow Up By: Hairy (WA) - Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 13:11

Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 13:11
Gday Marc,
Ive seen them around Gosses Bluff area but not out as far as you.....that doesn't mean there aren't any around though.

Cheers
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Reply By: cycadcenter - Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 05:58

Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 05:58
We have grown and imported several species for our Nursery in Southern California with some success,

Undoubtably the most impressive species is glauca and is also the fastest, in ideal growing conditions I have seen them grow up to 10cm of trunk a year and flower in less than 15 years.

Xanthorrhorea is now a protected species thoughout Australia and can only be harvested in approved salvage operations with permits from EA or whatever the agency is now.

All plants being sold should have a yellow tag attached.

It is actually illegal now to collect and plant or plant part (seeds, spikes leaves etc) from any plant anywhere even if it is on your own place.

Bruce
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Reply By: Peter_n_Margaret - Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 06:43

Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 06:43
At Stanage (I reckon) on the Queensland coast we saw a dwarf variety in 2005 that we have never seen before.
They were only about 200mm high total with flower stalks about the same height again. They densely covered quite a large area that was exposed to the ocean winds.
Xanthorrhoea seeds can be propogated.

Cheers,
Peter
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Follow Up By: Peter_n_Margaret - Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 06:56

Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 06:56
Found a pic......


Cheers,
Peter
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Reply By: Wayne (NSW) - Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 08:05

Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 08:05
John and Val

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I came across this out crop of Grass Trees on my recent trip to Cape York. They were in the Mungkan Kandju N.P. near Archer River Road House. There were hundreds of them on the side of the track all about the same size.

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These Grass Trees have a great view of the Ridge Top at Arkaroola.

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These would have to be my favorite, on the Canning Stock Route just before Well 6.

Wayne
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Reply By: Member - rodney L (VIC) - Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 08:12

Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 08:12
these are in Brisbane Ranges out of Geelong.Victoria photo taken in January 2008 after bushfire.Image Could Not Be Found
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Follow Up By: Member - John L (WA) - Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 09:54

Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 09:54
There is a lovely Noongar legend about the blackboy. A young beautiful girl was being chased by a yellow dog dingo who wanted her for a wife. She threw her arms up in supplication (the stalk), calling to the Rainbow Serpent to save her. The Rainbow Serpent turned her into a blackboy (with grass 'skirt') but the dingo was running so fast he was killed crashing into the trunk, and his yellow brains can still be found at the base of the tree. (This is of course the pollen from the flowers)
Cheers Heather
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Reply By: Member - Min (NSW) - Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 10:46

Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 10:46
To Val especially, and all who have posted on this thread,

As a guide at the Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra, thank you all for your info and photos. This is very valuable and I can share it with our visitors and other guides.

Searching for wildflowers is a huge part of our travels and I'm sure for many other Exploroz members and visitors. I think Val has started something here, maybe others could research plants they are particularly interested in and share it with us - like Doug T and his Sunday history.

Thanks again
Min
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Reply By: Member - John and Val - Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 14:36

Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 14:36
Thank you everyone for your beautiful photos and interesting bits of information. Whenever I look at a grass tree now I will see it with fresh eyes. One thing I have heard about them is that they are usually found in soil that is pretty low in nutrients, which might explain why they can be found in both rocky places and sandy swampy places.

Min, your thoughts re how this idea might develop coincide pretty well with mine, although I had never thought of such a thread being used as you suggest re ANBG. WE should all be flattered!

I must say the response to this thread has certainly given me encouragement to persevere with this little project.

My idea is to do a more or less regular forum post on a different plant or group of plants and hope that as in this thread others come in with photos and info. So by pooling our knowledge and photos via this forum we can build up a bit of an info base about what plants to look out for as we travel, and where and when to see them. I doubt that I'll have the discipline that Doug has to do a weekly post, but I'll see how it goes. Of course I would be delighted if others would give it a go too (plus threads on animals and rocks/minerals as well!).

I thought that after a couple more forum posts I would set up a blog to which all the individual forum posts could be linked. In this way all this pooled info would be in one place and easy to find. I hope that idea sits OK with posters here.

I'm still feeling my way as to what works, how much depth and detail to put in etc and so any feedback is very welcome.

In the meantime keep the photos coming - there must be someone who has something from Tasmania?

Cheers,

Val
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Follow Up By: Member - Marc Luther B (WA) - Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 18:00

Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at 18:00
Hi John and Val

May I make a suggestion. David and Michelle recently informed us they were setting up (or had set up) a new photo gallery area. Would it be worth a thought to incorporate your wonderful idea into that gallery, therefore avoiding the need to search through multiple threads to find these astoinshingly beautiful photos.

I am definitely going to do a bit of search around this area on my next two week break from work and see what I can find. It will give me another project, and I LOVE any reason to wander around the bush, not that I actually need a reason.

Cheers
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Reply By: Member - John and Val - Thursday, Dec 02, 2010 at 16:11

Thursday, Dec 02, 2010 at 16:11
Found a photo of these beauties just a few km north of Canberra on private property that is managed as a nature reserve.

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A few years ago when the Federal Highway around Lake George was being rebuilt a number of grass trees were relocated to a small area beside the new highway at the top of the scarp before the road runs down and follows beside the lake. Most appeared to survive OK but I havent looked at them for a while.

Cheers,

Val
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein

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Reply By: Member - Megan and Kevin D (AC - Thursday, Dec 23, 2010 at 22:43

Thursday, Dec 23, 2010 at 22:43
Image Could Not Be FoundHi Val
Love Grass Trees and they are terrific to draw. We lost a beauty (planted) in our backyard here in Canberra a couple of years ago but another is in flower at the moment - so that's a pleasure!

We saw these fabulous plants in a most glorious location in Cape Arid National Park WA (east of Esperance) this year. Just for good measure, I'll add a couple from the CSR.

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Your blog is a great idea - we have thousands of photos to contribute!!

Megan
AnswerID: 439699

Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Friday, Dec 24, 2010 at 10:39

Friday, Dec 24, 2010 at 10:39
Hi Kevin and Megan,

Lovely photos as always, thank you. This particular thread has created a lot of interest, perhaps not surprising as they are such distinctive plants.

Look forward to seeing more of your photos - maybe you could also initiate a thread? I have really enjoyed doing it so far, and have learned a lot in the process. Doesn't take toooo much time (said with tongue only slightly in cheek.)

Anyway have a happy Christmas, maybe we will catch up in the NY.

Cheers,

Val.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein

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