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northern grasstree, Xanthorrhoea johnsonii

errgam (ug -)
nhukan (yuku -)
in Uw Olkola
in Pakanh
ilbmb (uk -)
ulginb
puuncham
"grasstree wax" in Uw Oykangand
"grasstree wax" in Uw Olkola
"grasstree wax" in Pakanh

Northern grasstree, Xanthorrhoea johnsonii, near Coen, NQ [PH]

The northern grasstree, Xanthorrhoea johnsonii (family Xanthorrhoeaceae), is called ug errgam in Uw Olkola and yuku nhukan in Pakanh. In English it is sometimes also called "blackboy." It is found in the eastern portion of Olkola land, on higher, rockier country near the range. It prefers sandy or gravely soil. It is abundant, for example, around Dixie Station and near Coen. (Click here to see a panoramic image of a stand of grasstrees.) It is not found in the traditional land of the Oykangand people, which lies to the west of Olkola land.

Xanthorrhoea johnsonii is a trunk-forming species, as shown in the individual in the accompanying image. Young individuals have no trunk, with their grass-like leaves radiating from the ground. The trunk takes years to form.

This tree is very important in traditional material culture. It is a source of wax. Grasstree wax is called ulginb in Uw Olkola, uk ilbmb in Uw Oykangand and puuncham in Pakanh.

ek omel "grasstree stalk," in Uw Olkola
Grasstrees have a tall flower stalk, a flowering shoot that grows from the top of the grassy head of the plant. The flower stalk is called ek omel in Uw Olkola. This is composed of the words ek head, and omel tail, that is, a tail on the top (head) of the plant. When young the flower stalk is green and soft, but when mature it becomes very hard and durable.

The stalk is used for spear rods and firesticks. See the Plant usage page for more information on the uses of plant products in traditional industry.


Northern grasstrees, Xanthorrhoea johnsonii, showing flower stalks


Detail of grasstree flower stalk


Lofty Yam preparing grasstree stalks for usage as spear rods or firesticks

The grasstree flower stalk can be used as a spear rod and as a firestick.

The grasstree stalk, when used in spear industry, is called alg errgam in Uw Olkola and keka nhukan in Pakanh. The same vocabulary applies to spears made from grasstree stalks. The hardness and durability of the wood makes it very valuable when used for making spears.

The stalk is used as a firestick. It "lights up really quick."

e-mail: Philip Hamilton.
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