Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Zamia Palm - A-Z Blog Challenge

These are photos of some other plants from the local park. They are known as zamia palms although they are not a palm at all.

The zamia palm (Macrozamia riedlel) is a Western Australian plant although there are other members of the cycad family in other parts of the country. With its crown of upright, glossy, dark green fronds it's handsome, isn't it. Relatively small for a cycad (those in the park are only around 3 metres high) it makes an attractive garden plant.

Mainly found growing on laterite soils as part of the understorey of in the jarrah forest, the zamia fruit was a very important part of the diet of the local Noongar people but, because like other cycads it is toxic, it requires careful and lengthy preparation to make it fit to eat. Called jeeriji by the Noongar, the zamia produces its pineapple like fruit during the Noongar season of Bunuru (February - March) when the people moved to the coastal areas to fish for mullet and mulloway. Conveniently, this also gave them time to process the fruit so they could eat the rich, oily seeds later in the season of Djeran (April and May) and build up their strength for the cold weather to come. There's a lot of interesting information on how bush tucker aligned with the seasons here.

As a complete digression, talking about Noongar seasons makes me wonder why we have never used them instead of the completely inappropriate Northern hemisphere seasons which seem to have little relationship to the actual weather here.

Back to the zamia palm. Some early explorers (one was Willem de Vlamingh) who ate the unprocessed fruit became ill as did some the first European settlers. As well when they arrived with their sheep and cattle they experienced stock losses due to "zamia staggers", a form of poisoning when the animals grazed on the plants. Yet another piece of a steep learning process for all, I guess.

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