Wildflowers, Photos … and Cycads (Burrawangs)

A visitor to the forests of the south coast of NSW, or the Jarrah forests of WA will have seen these unusual palm-like plants called Cycads, that make such a distinctive understorey.Image Could Not Be Found

Cycads are plants of great antiquity, being the oldest living representatives of the first seed-bearing plants. They probably dominated the vegetation of the world some 200 million years ago when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Today, although much less abundant than in the past, cycads are found on many continents, generally in tropical or subtropical areas.

Though the cycads look like palms (and maybe ferns), they are related to the pine trees, as, like pines, cycads bear their seeds in cones.

Image Could Not Be FoundCycads have a stout trunk a metre or more tall, while others have the trunk wholly underground. At the top of their trunks is a cluster of long leaves (or fronds) maybe over 2m long, each bearing many leaflets.

Image Could Not Be FoundCycads grow as either male or female plants. The male plants produce narrow elongated cones which produce pollen. The female plants produce much larger seed bearing cones which, when mature break open allowing the seeds to fall to the ground. Image Could Not Be FoundThe ripe seeds have a fleshy, brightly-coloured (orange to red) covering and are gathered and eaten by marsupials, large birds and bats. I have seen female cones measuring 40cm in length and about 25cm diameter, although some species have considerably smaller cones.

In Australia, cycads are found in the tropical and sub-tropical zones, along the east coast and in the south-west of Western Australia, in areas of medium-to-high rainfall. One species occurs in the arid climate of Central Australia particularly in the Macdonnell Ranges. There are none in Victoria and South Australia though there are fossil beds of ancient cycads in Victoria.

In dry climates they grow mainly as scattered individuals but in moist areas they can occur in large colonies. Image Could Not Be FoundThe habitat in which they grow is generally open, from tall open forests to grass-lands and stony hillsides with shallow and rocky soils. On the Central and South Coast of New South Wales, Burrawangs (Macrozamia communis) can be seen in large numbers forming a distinctive understorey in the forests of the National Parks.

Australian Cycads include the genera Cycas, Lepidozamia and Macrozamia. There are about fifty species. Most species are extremely slow-growing, producing only a few leaves each year. Large specimens are of great age and may be some of the oldest living plants on earth.

All parts of the cycad plant are poisonous. Indigenous people have found a way to detoxify the seed by soaking the crushed seeds in water for several days. The water slowly breaks down and dissolves out the poison. Members of Captain Cook's party told how the Australian aboriginals collect seed of Cycas media , pound it up and dry it, then soak it in a stream for 4 to 5 days, before making it into a paste that is baked into bread. In 1788, Governor Phillips of New South Wales reported that a similar process was used to render the seeds of burrawangs harmless. More recently this species has been used for alcohol production, manufacture of laundry starch and the production of adhesive pastes.

Grazing by stock on cycad leaves can result in partial or total paralysis of the hind legs, a condition known as the 'wobbles' or 'staggers'. Whilst this rarely kills the animals, they are unable to obtain food and water and often die.

Cycads (mostly non Australian species) are used in horticulture, their long glossy fronds creating a striking display. They are very slow growing, making them good for potted specimens. Seeds will germinate readily – I have a couple in my garden with only a couple of small leaves but they must be about 25 years old. As a child growing up on the NSW north coast I recall the long fronds being cut from the bush and used to decorate little bush churches for weddings and at Christmas.

Cheers,

Val.
J and V
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Reply By: Member - joc45 (WA) - Friday, Jan 07, 2011 at 15:57

Friday, Jan 07, 2011 at 15:57
Hi Val,
A person after my own heart! But you forgot to mention the fern-like Bowenia!
I fell in love with cycads after my first visit to the Kimberley, even tho the macrozamias grow here in profusion in the SW of WA. So I've now got a mini-jurassic park garden full of assorted cycads!
My favourite Aust cycads include the Cycas Armstrongii, near Darwin (nice compact garden-size, pity they won't grow down here!), the Lepidozamia Hopeii, from FNQ, and the Bowenias from FNQ and northern NSW. Not had much luck with growing the Bowenia in Perth.
Was recently out east of Esperance, where there are some impressive Macrozamia Dyerii about 3m tall.
Cheers
Gerry

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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Friday, Jan 07, 2011 at 16:05

Friday, Jan 07, 2011 at 16:05
Hi Gerry,

Would love to see a few pics if you have them. I dont think I have seen a Bowenia, or some of the others you mentioned. Im only using my own photos and I found that I didn't have many shots of the NSW cycads.

Cheers,

Val
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Follow Up By: Member - joc45 (WA) - Saturday, Jan 08, 2011 at 01:21

Saturday, Jan 08, 2011 at 01:21
Hi Val,

Bowenia Spectabilis grows in the tropical rainforest of FNQ.
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The Bowenia Serrulata grows around the Byfield area of Qld (sorry, I earlier thought it was from northern NSW). It used to be called the Byfield Fern until it was identified as a cycad. These are the only cycad with bipinnate, or branched leaves.

Cycas Armstrongii grow like weeds around and south of Darwin:
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I'd love to have one of these in my garden, but they're not conducive to Perth's dry climate.

Lepidozamia Hopei:
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These can grow to 20 metres, and are found in the rainforest around Cairns

The three Kimberley cycads were the ones that originally whetted my interest:
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These were up near Kalumburu

Cycas Basaltica
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This is a pretty old one on top of Mt Hann

The Cycas Lane-Poolei grows up on the Mitchell Plateau - somehow I seem to have mislaid this pic.

East of Esperance are the Macrozamia Dyeri. Very similar to the M. Reidlii, but with a substantial trunk, sometimes a nearly metre in diameter.
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About 4 years ago, a fire wiped out most of the vegetation around Thomas River, east of Esperance. The survivors were the M. Dyerii
Image Could Not Be Found

Cheers,
Gerry
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Reply By: Member - John Baas (WA) - Friday, Jan 07, 2011 at 16:32

Friday, Jan 07, 2011 at 16:32
Hi Val, the Jurien cycad is Macrozamia fraseri.

There are about 12 Macrozamias in Oz with 3 in WA; the other two being dyeri and riedlei.

The Perth photo is of riedlei.

Dyeri gows near Esperance.

Have a look at http://florabase.calm.wa.gov.au/search/advanced?family=&genus=macrozamia&species=&infrasp=&author=&constat=¤t=&alien=&ms=&common=&id=&reference=&photo=&colour=&fltime=&habitat=&habit=&soiltype=&northern=&eremaean=&southwst=


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Cheers.
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Reply By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Friday, Jan 07, 2011 at 19:46

Friday, Jan 07, 2011 at 19:46
Hi Val

One again thanks for another very interesting story. They are a great plat to come across and here are a few pictures of Macrozamia macdonnellii (MacDonnell Ranges Cycad). These can been seen in many places in Central Australia and these old beauties can seen on the Kings Canyon rim walk.

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Thanks for taking the time for a great story.

Cheers

Stephen
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Follow Up By: Member - joc45 (WA) - Saturday, Jan 08, 2011 at 01:27

Saturday, Jan 08, 2011 at 01:27
Hi Stephen,
Great pics.
I was through there last year. I noticed that someone had vandalised the sign depicted above, with the words "45 million years" and "20 million years" scratched out. I'm assuming they didn't believe that time went back that far!

cheers
Gerry
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Follow Up By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Saturday, Jan 08, 2011 at 08:16

Saturday, Jan 08, 2011 at 08:16
Hi Gerry

Why idiots vandalise such signs makes one ask "WHY". The signs are made so that they can give people an insight into the history of the area and if they do not believe the facts, then leave them the way they are.

You have some great pictures above also.



Cheers


Stephen
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Follow Up By: Member - Min (NSW) - Monday, Jan 10, 2011 at 18:25

Monday, Jan 10, 2011 at 18:25
Hi Gerry,
Very interesting to hear about the vandalism of the sign. We have the same problem in the Aust Nat Bot Garden in Canberra where beautiful new signs we had waited so long for were defaced with references to "... years ago" scratched out with a sharp instrument. it must have taken quite some time to do it. It's a worry when people feel so deeply about something they disagree with that they are prepared to commit a crime to make their point.
Min
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Follow Up By: Member - joc45 (WA) - Monday, Jan 10, 2011 at 19:46

Monday, Jan 10, 2011 at 19:46
Hi Min,
Yes, sadly it wold appear that some people seem to want to force their religious convictions on the public. This is the sign I mentioned.
Image Could Not Be Found

Gerry


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Reply By: equinox - Saturday, Jan 08, 2011 at 01:54

Saturday, Jan 08, 2011 at 01:54
Here's some, from Bold Park in Perth.

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Follow Up By: equinox - Saturday, Jan 08, 2011 at 02:03

Saturday, Jan 08, 2011 at 02:03
sorry I forgot:
At the base is a substance, locally called "Bulls Wool".

This is a very fine fibre, which can be used as a fire starter.


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Reply By: cycadcenter - Saturday, Jan 08, 2011 at 03:38

Saturday, Jan 08, 2011 at 03:38
Hi John and Val,

Great thread thanks for posting, I'm not a member here any more as I'm in the USA most of the time so I can't post any Photos. I guess I've seen about 95% of the Australian species over the years.

There are in fact 39 described species of Macrozamias, 35 Cycas species, two Bowenia and two Lepidozamia in Australia giving it the most diverse range of cycads for any continent.

There are probably 2-3 more species of both macrozamia and cycas which have been discovered and not yet described as well as the species of Bowenia from around Mt Haig which may be a new species.

Most of the research on Australia cycads was done by a good friend Ken Hill from Sydney Botanical Gardens who unfortunately passed away last September after a long illness so the new descriptions are in limbo.

My favourite cycads would be Cycas semota from Bamaga, Cycas xipolepis from Batavia Down, Cycas cairnsiana from O'Briens Creek, Macrozamia moorei from Staircase Range and Macrozamia stenomera from Mt Kaputar.

All Australian cycads are classed as Appendix 2 with CITES which restricts international trade and are also classed as endangered species by the Australian Government. It is illegal to collect any plant part including leaves and seed without a permit.

Bowenia leaves used to be used extensively as decorations in Butchers shops until someone figured out that the leaves were actually toxic.

One of the more fascinating features of cycads is their sex life. There are both male and female plants and cycads actually have motile sperm. The males plants when they are ready to shed pollen, the male cones heat up approximately 5-7c and emit an odour which attracts species specific weevils, these weevils collect the pollen generally in the morning and that afternoon the female plants heat up and emit a odour to attracted the pollen carrying weevils for pollination.

One of the best sources of information is

The Cycad Pages

Fascinating plants.

Bruce


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Reply By: Member - John and Val - Saturday, Jan 08, 2011 at 17:18

Saturday, Jan 08, 2011 at 17:18
Thank you all for your very informative replies and photos. I certainly agree that the cycads are a very interesting group of plants, and thanks to your collective info there are now some more items on my "must see" list, particularly for when we get up to North Qld next. The business of them being able to regulate the temperature of the cone is astonishing.

I have seen them in, I think Simpsons Gap or Standley Chasm, and near the wall of the Ord River Dam (but no photos of either) and I think I may have seen some in N. Qld with unusual cones - will keep a sharper eye out next trip.

Cheers,

Val
J and V
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