Balga – a significant tree?

Balga (Xanthorrhoea preissii), not technically a tree, is a widespread species of perennial monocot found in southwest Australia, and is significant as a supplier of bush medicine.

Often colloquially known a The Grass Tree, the name ‘balga’ is derived from the Nyungar language and the appearance of the plant was seen by early settlers of the region as resembling a native inhabitant holding a spear. It’s found throughout coastal plains, near watercourses, and inland forest regions, in a range extending from the Western Australian coast to Albany in WA’s southwest in all types of soil.

What looks like a trunk is actually made up of a ring of accumulated leaf bases which provide structural support but no nutrient transport. Nutrient transport is achieved via aerial roots which run down the hollow centre.

Balga was important to the Noongar people, who used the gum it contained as glue, and when burned, inhaled the smoke for relief from respiratory ailments. The spikes were used for fish spears, and the bardi grub which colonised the plant as a source of food. Inside of the top of the tree is a pulp eaten to ease stomach upsets,

The trunk may grow over three metres tall, and after fires the remains of leaves and the annual regrowth produce banding, allowing the age of the plant to be determined.

Creamy or white flowers appear on an upright spike, 1.5m to 2.5m long, between June and December, and appear more profusely when stimulated by bushfire.

Find out more about balsa at wheatbeltnrm.org.au.

Image: Wheatbelt Natural Resource Management

 

 

 

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