Photography by Steffi Gruetzmacher – images courtesy of Framed Gallery

About the plants


Native plants

Acacia dunnii

Common name: Elephant Ear Wattle. Grows in dry regions in open woodlands. Bright yellow flowers. Widely grown as an ornamental. Leaves used by Aboriginal people for wrapping foods such as lily seeds. Found in Top End and Victoria River District of northern Western Australia.

Acacia holosericea

Family: Mimosaceae. Shrub or small tree. Pale yellow flowers. Common on disturbed sites. Found in monsoon forest and savannah woodland. Leaves and immature seedpods used by Aboriginal people as ‘bush soap’, wood used for spear shafts. Roots, foliage and bark used as medicines. Foliage and pods used as a fish poison. Occurs widely across northern Australia.

Ampelocissus acetosa

Common name: Wild Grape. Family: Vitaceae. Semi-prostrate shrub or scrambling climber, with perennial tuber. Edible fleshy purple-black fruit in dense grape-like clusters. Common in coastal forest. One of the first plants to appear after fire. Fruit and roots are eaten by Aboriginal people, leaves are used to wrap meat for cooking, and juice may be an antidote for snakebite.

Buchanania obovata

Common name: Green Plum. Common understorey tree in open forest. Fruit eaten raw, roots after roasting. Leaves used as a medicine for a wide variety of conditions. Occurs across northern Australia.

Eucalyptus tetrodonta

Common name: Stringybark. Tall tree 10 – 30 metres high, with fibrous, stringy bark. Grows in sandstone and lowland country. Planted in parklands, coastal plantings and rural properties. Timber used for posts and poles. A ‘calender’ tree for Aboriginal people. Bark used to make canoes, shelters, utensils and for bark paintings. Wood used for tools, including spears, digging and fighting sticks, bull-roarers and dance sticks. Hollow branches and trunks used to make didgeridoos, coffins, drums and drone pipes. Preparation from leaves, sapwood and inner bark used for a variety of medicinal purposes. Occurs widely across northern Australia.

Flagellaria indica

Family: Flagellariaceae. ‘Flagellum’ means whip, and ‘indica’ refers to India, where this species was first recorded. Vigorous climber, climbing via modified tendrils on leaf tips, with tough smooth cane-like stems. Wide-spread in coastal vine thickets, in lowland or sandstone country and in mangrove forests. Edible fruit, stems used to sew bark canoes, coolamons, baskets and fish traps. Used to weave armbands. Stems used to dip honey from ‘sugar-bag’. Sap and infusion from inner stem used as a medicine. Used as a decoration during ceremonies. Occurs widely throughout northern Australia, also tropical Africa, India, South East Asia, Melanesia and Polynesia.

Grevillea decurrens

Family: Proteaceae. Small slender tree 3-5metres high. Pale pink flowers with prominent protuding style, 2 to 3.5 centimetres long. Fruit is smooth, round, thick-walled and woody, containing two papery winged seeds. Common in open forest, woodland and shrubland. A small ornamental tree suited to gardens and parkland plantings. Seeds eaten raw by Aboriginal people, source of nectar for bees. Pollinated by birds – honey eaters. Found across northern Australia.

Planchonia careya

Common name: Cocky Apple. Family: Lecythidaceae. Straggly small tree 4-10 metres high. Large fleshy pink and white flowers with numerous stamens, 5-6 cm long. Fleshy edible fruit to 9cmx3.5cm, pale greenish when ripe. Corky, fissured bark. Juvenile leaves are substantially different from mature leaves. Common understorey tree in open forest and woodland. An Aboriginal ‘calendar plant’. Bark, leaves, roots and stems have medicinal uses. Root bark used to make string for ceremonial belts and string bags. Bark, leaves and branches used as a fish poison. Occurs across the north of Australia, also Papua New Guinea.

Tacca leontopetaloides

Family: Taccaceae. Stemless herb, generally 0.5 to 1 metre high, perennial underground tuber. Dies down in the Dry Season, grows vigorously in the Wet. Large compound leaves, dark green and glossy. Numerous terminal umbels surrounded by large greenish or yellowish bracts often with purple flecks, other bracts hairlike, to 25cm long. Small flowers open at night. Grows in coastal regions or in monsoon vine thickets. May occur in plantings in conjuction with tamarind trees on the islands off the western Arhemland coast, where it was cultivated in historical times by Macassan trepang fishermen. Fruit and roots eaten, the latter after extensive preparation. Polynesian arrowroot. Roots also used as a medicine. Related to the Malaysian Batflower, the Taccas are a pan-tropic species of vast distribution – northern Australia, Pacific Islands, Indonesia, Phillipines, South East Asia, India, Sri Lanka, and tropical Africa.

Syzygium eucalyptoides

Family: Myrtaceae. Small tree 5-10 metres high but often found as a clump of suckers. Showy white flowers, with numerous stamens, 2-4 cm across. Edible fleshy apple-like fruit 3.5-4cm diameter, cream to white when ripe. Grows in open forest or woodland, often on poorer soils. Aboriginal uses – fruit eaten raw, source of nectar for bees, food for many animals. Good firewood. Fire-tolerant, with a lignotuber which gives rise to new shoots if the plant is burnt or damaged. Found across northern Australia.


Introduced plants

Andropogon gayanus

Common name: Gamba grass. Family: Poaceae. Native to Africa. A perennial grass that forms thick tussocks up to 4 metres high. Originally introduced as a pasture species, but has spread from the rural regions into many ‘undeveloped’ areas of bushland, where it out-competes native grasses. Cattle prefer to eat it when young and green, tending to avoid it when mature. Creates a fire hazard, as it burns hotter than native grasses, damaging the environment. Seeds are spread by wind and water as well as by vehicles. 

Clitoria ternatea

Many common names, including butterfly -pea and blue-pea. Family: Fabaceae. A vigourous, persistent herbaceous perennial legume. Native to Africa. Now widespread throughout the humid lowlands of Asia, the Caribbean, Central and South America. Introduced as a cover crop. Widely planted as an ornamental on fencerows. Increases soil fertility, used to improve yields of subsequent crops. Used as a revegetation species. Medicinal uses.

Macroptilium atropurpureum

Family: Fabaceae. Common name: purple-bean. A perennial climbing and twining herb, with deep purple-black flowers. Native to North America. Introduced as a pasture plant for permanent or short term pastures. Also used for soil conservation and revegetation. Adds nitrogen to the soil.

Passiflora foetida

Common name: Wild Passionfruit. Family: Passifloraceae. Native to South America. A vigourous tendril climber. The central parts of the flower resemble elements of the crucifiction, hence the reference to ‘Passion’. ‘Foetida’ refers to the unpleasant smell of the crushed foliage. Often occurs in semi-deciduous coastal monsoon vine forest, especially on disturbed sites. This vine is naturalised and very common. Aboriginal people eat the pulp of the ripe fruit. The green fruit is highly toxic.




Brock, J. [1988]. ‘Top End Native Plants’. Pub. John Brock.

Wightman, G. and Andrews, M. [1989] ‘Plants of the Northern Territory Vine Forests’. Conservation Commission of the Northern Territory.


Weeds Australia. http://www.weeds.org.au/ntmap.htm



With special thanks to Heleana Wauchope and Molly Yarrngu [Traditional owner, Maningrida] for plant identification and information. Also thanks to the Djelk Women Rangers [Maningrida], Donna Lewis [Northern Territory Herbarium] and Dr. Richard Noske [CDU].