Wildflowers, Photos … and Nardoo or Marsilea.

Submitted: Saturday, Nov 05, 2011 at 17:12
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Nardoo or Marsilea drummondii is a common plant in arid and semi arid regions of Australia. But it’s a plant full of contradictions:

It’s a fern that looks like a four leaf clover.

It doesn’t have any flowers but reproduces by spores.Image Could Not Be Found

It grows in water but is superbly adapted to dry conditions.

It is an important food source for waterbirds but can be fatal for mammals.

Nardoo is nutritious, but is a potentially dangerous source of food.

Burke & Wills were eating plenty of it when they starved to death on Cooper Creek.

After the rain and floods of last summer it was a very common sight across western NSW and Queensland last winter.Image Could Not Be Found Maybe you saw some; do you have some photos of Nardoo?

What is it and what does it look like? Have a look at the blog here to find out more.

Cheers,

Val.
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Reply By: Member - Jack - Saturday, Nov 05, 2011 at 20:50

Saturday, Nov 05, 2011 at 20:50
H Val:

Interesting stuff, this nardoo.l I am very interested to know how the aborigines were able to leach out the toxins in nardoo, which Burke and Wills were unable to do. That is part fo the reason for them starving to death, I believe. I'd appreciate hearing from anyone with such info.

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Follow Up By: Member - Kevin S (QLD) - Saturday, Nov 05, 2011 at 21:10

Saturday, Nov 05, 2011 at 21:10
So would I Jack. I have just read Alan Morehouse's book "Cooper's Creek", his history of the Burke & Wills expedition. In the chapters where he deals with the period when Burke & Wills had returned to the depot on the Cooper he deals at length with the collection and preparation of nardoo by Burke, Wills and King but does not refer to toxins at all. The reason for their loss of strength and ultimate death is attributed to lack of nutrition. I had heard of the failure to remove toxins from the nardoo flour and was looking for reference to it in the book, so I would like to know where the claim came from.
Kevin
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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Saturday, Nov 05, 2011 at 22:16

Saturday, Nov 05, 2011 at 22:16
Hi Jack and Kevin,
Burke and Wills didn’t know about the enzyme thiaminase (it would not have been discovered at that time) and how it was destroyed by heat. They didnt roast the Nardoo as the aboriginals did before grinding it up and as a consequence they were poisoned by it.

Cheers,

Val.
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Follow Up By: Member - Kevin S (QLD) - Sunday, Nov 06, 2011 at 09:58

Sunday, Nov 06, 2011 at 09:58
Interesting Val. Your account tallies quite well with the account in Moorehead book. Not surprising as both came primarily from Will's notes. Moorehead wrote his book in 1960s (he died in 1983) so you would think that he would have known by then and included it as one of the reasons for Burke & Wills dying of starvation. I wonder whet else he left out. I read your blog Val. All very interesting.
Kevin
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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Sunday, Nov 06, 2011 at 10:30

Sunday, Nov 06, 2011 at 10:30
Hi Kevin,

Just did a quick Google about the discovery of thiaminase - it was first known to occur in fish then was found in bracken in the late 1950s, so my GUESS would be that it would not have been until rather later that its presence in Nardoo would have been confirmed. I think Frank Moorhouse would not have been aware of it when he wrote his book - and he didnt have the internet and google to help with his research :-).

I am always intrigued at how early people worked out what plants were poisonous and how to treat the poison to make it safe. I suppose it was trial and error, but it must have taken a few casualties and a lot of time.....

Cheers,

Val.
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Follow Up By: Member - Kevin S (QLD) - Sunday, Nov 06, 2011 at 10:35

Sunday, Nov 06, 2011 at 10:35
Yes Val. Not an area in which you would want to be a pioneer, really.
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