What is the Western Australian Christmas Tree?

It is on Christmas cards and gift tags for a very good reason: the golden orange-yellow blooms of the Christmas Tree blaze from October to January (Kambarang & Birak).

Endemic to Western Australia, it grows from the Murchison River, to the western end of the Great Australian Bight in sandy or granitic soil in open forest, woodland and heath (ANPSA). Lately when I’ve been driving up the Kwinana Freeway to Perth city, I am distracted by the clusters of Christmas Trees flanking the busy road.

Philippa Nikulinsky Nuytsia floribunda

The Christmas Tree is a member of the southern mistletoe family (Loranthaceae), though differs from most mistletoes because it grows as a tree, rather than a shrub attached to trees. Nuytsia is a monotypic genus, meaning it only includes the one species, and it is the only plant in the mistletoe family that has seeds that are wind dispersed.  

­It is a ruthless parasite, with blades for slicing into the roots of plants to steal their sap. These blades are sharp – known to cause power failures when the tree attacks buried cables (Aus Geo). It can attach to several host plants at a time and can parasitise most plants including the roots of grasses, trees, shrubs, and non-native species (ABC).

 

Nuytsia floribunda

 

In Noongar Bush Tucker (Hansen & Horsfall, 2019), there’s a list of culinary uses of the plant – in times of food scarcity, women (yorgas) dug up the roots for a meal while the flowers were soaked in water to make a sweet drink from the nectar. But this information is disputed – see here.

The tree is also significant and sacred: “some Noongar groups don’t eat from the tree or pick the flowers because they believe that the tree is where their ancestors rest” (Hansen & Horsfall, p 99).

 

Nuytsia floribunda christmas tree greeting card Philippa Nikulinsky

 

Other names for the Christmas Tree

Noongar: Mooja, Mungai Mungah and Moodgar (Hansen & Horsfall, p 98) moondar and moondjak (Noongar Dictionary, 1997)

Scientific: Nuytsia floribunda (Nuytsia - after Pieter Nuyts, member of the Council of Dutch Indies and 17th century explorer in south western Australia. floribunda - from Latin floribundus, profusely flowering.)

Further reading

On growing from seed - Australian Native Nursery

On eating it – Talking Plants

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published