Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Western Boonaree

Alectryon oleifolius
 
This is a plant that could easily go unnoticed, because it can be mistaken for a wattle.




Its yellow-green flowers are small and inconspicuous, and even the bright and pretty fruit could be overlooked unless the plant has branches close to the ground.
Livestock find the leaves very tasty, so wherever it grows in grazing country the leaves are trimmed off as far as the animals can reach. Seedlings have difficulty surviving under these conditions. Western boonarees were once very common, as is shown by their impressive list of common names (western rosewood, inland rosewood, bullock bush, cattle bush, jiggo, boneree, bush minga, applebush, and red heart). They are known to live for more than 100 years, but may be in decline in the wild nowadays, due to non-native animals which destroy the seedlings.  They are a favourite food for cattle, sheep, and wild goats. Even rabbits love them.
One of those alternative names, rosewood, tells us that heartwood is a pretty shade of red. It is soft and easy to work, but non-durable if used outdoors.
It is not a common plant here on the eastern Darling Downs, but I found some plants in seed a few days ago in the piece of Yarran woodland by the roadside east of Jondaryan. (This ecologically valuable woodland remnant contains several plants that are more usually found further west, including yarran, Acacia melvillei)



As with most Alectryons, the flowers are produced in pairs but often only one of them is fertilised so the result is one developed seed twinned with an undeveloped embryo.

 

When the seed is ripe, its red aril swells and bursts the capsule open. The seed is half covered by the nutritious, bird-attracting red aril, and is brown rather than the typical Alectryon black.

The internet informs me that Northern Territory Aborigines eat the arils. I find them so disgustingly astringent that I wouldn’t recommend putting them in your mouth.

Like all members of its genus, it is a host to some species of little ant-blue butterflies - provided it is grown where those particular butterflies occur naturally, and where they have the right kind of ants to help rear the caterpillars.

Western Boonaree is a pretty plant, with its silky new leaves, and drooping foliage which covers the plant to ground level for many years when it is young.




It is very tough, hardy to both frost and drought, and suitable for windbreaks.

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