Wildflowers, Photos ... and Pandanus or Screw Palm

Submitted: Saturday, Feb 05, 2011 at 12:42
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You might call it Pandanus Palm, Screw Pine or Breadfruit. Whatever you call it, Pandanus is not a palm, not a pine, and its not the breadfruit of Captain Bligh and the Bounty fame.
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Regardless of what its called Pandanus trees are a common sight throughout tropical Australia. It’s especially common along watercourses and beaches where their distinctive big spiky leaves spiralling around the top of the branches stand in sharp contrast to other softer vegetation.
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Pandanus are found worldwide, and there are over 600 species. There are about 30 species in Australia occurring in tropical and sub-tropical areas. The name Pandanus is derived from the Indonesian/Malay name of the tree, Pandan.

They are shrubs or trees and have separate male and female plants, each producing small white flowers enclosed in large bracts. The female produces fruit that is a head-sized group of wedge shaped segments (looks a bit like a big pineapple) that turn yellow or red as they ripen. Within each segment the edible seeds are embedded in tough fibrous material. Old pandanus fruit segments are commonly seen washed up on the beach.
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Pandanus stems or trunks are much-branched and aerial roots are present, usually in the form of prop or stilt roots. These above ground roots provide extra support to hold up heavy fruits, leaves and branches and also to combat the often windy environment.
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The branches end in dense clusters of sword-like leaves in a spiral arrangement. In some species this spiral arrangement shows on the bark of the trunks, giving rise to the common name of screw palm/pine. The edges of the leaves have sharp backward pointing spines. Wildlife including birds, takes advantage of the spiny leaves by living or nesting in the tree for protection.
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Of the 30 odd Australian species, 4 are most commonly seen.

Pandanus spiralis or Screw Palm is the most common. It gets its name from the screw-like markings around the bark of its trunk. It is found across the Kimberley, in the northern third of the Northern Territory, the whole Cape York and extends south along the coast until about Mackay. It grows up to 12m high, has prop roots, a brown trunk, dull green leaves with a whitish waxy bloom, small white flowers and fruits arranged in pineapple-like clusters.
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Pandanus tectorius or Screw Pine is the largest species. It can grow up to 18m high, and has prop roots, pale grey trunk, mid-green to bluish-green leaves. It is found along the eastern coast of Australia north from about Coffs Harbour to the top of Cape York.

Pandanus gemmifer or Pandanus grows up to 8m high, has prop roots, a pale brown trunk, dark green, thick leathery leaves. It is found along the coast of northern Queensland between Innisfail and Iron Range National Park on Cape York.

Pandanus aquaticus or River Pandanus is the smallest of Australian pandanus trees. It grows up to 5m tall and has a pinkish-brown trunk, creamy-white flowers, bluish-green leaves and green fruits that turn red as they ripen. River Pandanus is found in the Top End of Northern Territory, and in a few small pockets in the Kimberley, and Lawn Hill National Park area in north-western Queensland.
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Pandanus trees provided many useful resources to aboriginal people. The leaves are very flammable and smouldering branches were used to carry fire from one place to another.

Pandanus fruit and seeds are edible and Aboriginal people used pandanus fruits both as medicine and as food. In addition, mashed leaves can be used to cure headaches when tied around the head.

Pandanus leaves are heavy and strong, and were used by indigenous people for clothing, fishing and as decorations. The leaves are split and sun dried then the fibre can be used as string to weave neckbands and armbands and for making baskets, dillybags, fish traps, mats and shelters.
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So here is another of the amazing plants that we see on our travels. The sight of Pandanus tells us we are in the tropics or at least the subtropics. Although we share Pandanus with other parts of the world, we can imagine how we would go using it in as many ways as aboriginal people did and in some places still do.

Cheers,

Val.
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Reply By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Saturday, Feb 05, 2011 at 13:49

Saturday, Feb 05, 2011 at 13:49
Hi Val

Thank you again for another very informative story on those special plants that one always relates to tropical area. I am sorry but I am unable to add any photos, as the pictures that I have are only on prints - sorry.


Keep up your great work.



Cheers

Stephen
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Reply By: Member - Fred B (NT) - Saturday, Feb 05, 2011 at 14:13

Saturday, Feb 05, 2011 at 14:13
Good one Val.
For anyone interested, the book called: "Native Plants Of Northern Australia" by John Brock, is an excellent field guide. Even though it specifically covers the NT area from Borroloola to the WA Border (near Keep River NP) and all the area north of that line, it does give the location habitats of any of the plants found outside of this region. Can Highly recommend this book.
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Fred B
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Reply By: Member - Barry H (WA) - Saturday, Feb 05, 2011 at 14:25

Saturday, Feb 05, 2011 at 14:25
Hi Val,

Another good post.

Sorry I can't contribute to this one either, I dont have a single pic of a Pandanus.

Keep up the good work

Regards

BarryH
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Reply By: Member - Duncan W (WA) - Sunday, Feb 06, 2011 at 01:28

Sunday, Feb 06, 2011 at 01:28
A few examples of Pandanas Aquaticus from me Cape Laveque, Fraser Island, & Yellow Waters Kakadu

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Reply By: Member - joc45 (WA) - Sunday, Feb 06, 2011 at 12:12

Sunday, Feb 06, 2011 at 12:12
Another great article, Val.
We watched this cockatoo at Bells Gorge last year, repeatedly coming back for the fruit of the pandanus.


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cheers
Gerry

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Follow Up By: Member - joc45 (WA) - Sunday, Feb 06, 2011 at 12:47

Sunday, Feb 06, 2011 at 12:47
Meant to add, that campsite on the Gregory River looked so inviting!
cheers, G
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Reply By: Member - John and Val - Monday, Feb 07, 2011 at 15:27

Monday, Feb 07, 2011 at 15:27
Thanks to all for your responses, and to Dunc and Gerry for some great photos. Loved the one with the cockatoo. Gerry, that Gregory River camp would have to be in my "top 10" list of best camps.

Pandanus are not something that we would go out of our way to photograph, but here's a shot, taken at Middle Lagoon when there was a lot of smoke in the air, that brings out their rather striking sculptural, or maybe prehistoric appearance.
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Cheers,

Val
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