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Plant identification guides:
Bush tucker food forest

Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.

 

As with all medicinal applications of Australian bush foods, please do your due diligence and consult with First Nations or other Australian herbal specialists before utilising as a remedy for any condition.

 

Some parts of the plant may not be edible or some may need preparation before they are safe to eat or use in any way. We do our best to describe their traditional & modern uses. It is the reader’s responsibility to ensure they are fit for their intended use.

 

We can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Bunya pine

Scientific name:

Other Names:

Araucaria bidwillii

Bunya-bunya, Bunya nut tree, Monkey puzzle tree

Family:

Araucariaceae

Bunya pine

Basic info:

“The bunya pine (Araucaria bidwillii) is an icon of the natural and cultural heritage of Queensland and one of an elite group of trees that is admired and studied around the world. Endemic to Queensland, the bunya's majestic height, unique silhouette and dark green foliage set it apart from other trees of the Australian bush. Revered as sacred by its Indigenous custodians, the bunya's prolific seasonal harvests of edible nuts provided the catalyst for ceremonial gatherings of thousands of people, many of them from hundreds of kilometres away. To this day the tree retains a significant place in the spiritual life of Queensland's Indigenous peoples. Early colonists were entranced, by these spiritual connections and they wove together tales of mystique and romance that still shape our imaginings and continue to inspire novelists, artists and historians. The bunya's ancient lineage, with links going back in time to the age of the dinosaurs, adds to its air of mystery. A host of treasured personal and community memories envelope the tree. The nuts have provided a novel seasonal treat for generations of Queenslanders and the heavy seed-bearing cones are the subject of countless yarns about narrowly missed injury to persons sheltering beneath its branches. Many are the families who spent their summer holidays in the bunya forests, away from the sweltering heat of the coast. Others have links to the early timber-getters who attempted to make a living by pitting their axes against the bunya's massive trunks. Today a new host of entrepreneurs-ecotourism operators, craftspeople and 'bushtucker' chefs – are attracted by the tree's economic potential.” (Anna Haebich (2002), from editorial of “On the Bunya Trail”, Queensland Review, special Issue vol 9(2).)

Bunya Pines are native to south-eastern Queensland, and especially around the Bunya Mountains National Park area (250 kms north-west of Brisbane), which contains the largest Bunya Pine forest in the world.[1] There are other native populations in the wet tropics region of Northern Queensland (in the Atherton Tablelands and Mount Lewis National Park). They have since been widely planted around Australia and around the world.


It occupies various habitats from moist valley floors at low altitudes to ridge tops and upper slopes, and is normally found as an emergent over tropical rainforest.


The bunya is as old as the dinosaurs! It has continued to exist since the Jurassic period, while many of its relatives from the era are now extinct. And although much publicity has been given over the past few years to the discovery of the Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis) north of Sydney and its status as a ‘living fossil’, it is not generally realised that the bunya has a similar status. Dinosaurs ate these seeds!


Despite its common name, the plant is not a true pine (just like the Wollemi, Norfolk and Hoop Pines aren't of the Pinus genus) but early botanists had a tendency to name every conifer they found in Australia a “pine”.


The bunya nut tree is a huge tree - the tallest living individual is in Bunya Mountains National Park and was reported in January 2003 to be 51.5 m in height. The largest known diameter of a bunya pine tree is 2.15 metres (measured in 2011 on a planted tree, estimated to be only 150 years old, in Bowrai, NSW.)


The dark brown to dark grey trunk is most often bare for two thirds of the height with scars from trunk injuries or broken-off branches, weeping with a pink to yellow resin.


Pyramidical in shape when young, it develops to show a huge dome-shaped crown. The branches are produced in distinct whorls around the trunk. The juvenile and adult leaves are distinctly different. The former are light green and flattened in two rows, whereas in the mature condition they are more triangular-lanceolate, dark green, spirally arranged around the branchlets, and very sharply pointed. They can cut like razor blades.


The species, unlike most araucarias, is monoecious with both male and female organs produced on an individual tree. The male cones are narrow, cylindrical structures to about 20 cm long, they hang from the ends of the upper branches mostly in September to October. The large, female fruiting cones are very large (football sized), similar in appearance to a pineapple, and generally mature in summer through to early autumn (February – May). The female cones weigh 5-10 kilograms and contain between 30 and 100 nuts.


The cones will fall from the tree when mature, usually disintegrating on hitting the ground to release the seeds.


Both the male and female cones are shed from the tree and can be a hazard to anyone underneath. Because of their size and weight, the female cones are particularly dangerous but the male cones are also capable of causing injury, particularly when they fall from the top of a large tree.[2]


It can take many years for a tree to mature enough to bear a crop of edible seeds. Although there are records of trees bearing fruit after 8 years, many find they have to wait at least 15 years, some 30-50 years. The difference being primarily how far down the water table is.[3]

Once established, the tree produces a small crop annually, but produces a huge harvest (large trees can produce over 300 cones in a single season) every 2 or 3 years.


The seeds have an unusual germination strategy: the first shoot to emerge from the seed grows downwards, until it reaches a hard surface, whereupon it develops a tuber. This tuber can sit dormant for months at a time, waiting, it is assumed, for optimal growing conditions. From here the roots and stem develop. Known as “cryptogeal germination”, it is thought that this adaptation may protect against wildfires and allows the young plants to emerge when conditions are suitable.


NOTES:

[1] The Bunya Mountains are the remains of an old shield volcano – about 30 million years old, with peaks rising to more than 1,100 metres. The Bunya pines grow in fertile basalt soils in this cool and moist mountain environment.

[2] Note: There is speculation that the cones from these trees are the original true "drop bear". They are large and when they drop out of the tree, you really know about it.

[3] See comments at https://www.permaculturenews.org/2013/11/27/the-bunya-bunya-pine-araucaria-bidwillii/

Uses and Interesting Information:


The Bunya Pine produces chestnut-flavoured nuts which are encased in woody shells within the giant cone. These nuts are a rich source of protein and can be eaten raw or cooked. They are up to 500 times the mass of a regular pine nut.


Once fallen from the tree, they should be harvested and frozen or processed within a week, although there is suggestion that Indigenous people also stored them underground in wet mud, which is believed to have improved the flavour as well as extended their length of availability.


Traditionally, the nuts were ground and made into a paste, which was eaten directly or cooked in hot coals to make bread. Indigenous people also ate the root shoots and tuber that came from germinated nuts.[1]


Early settlers used to boil the nuts with their corned beef. In fact, to this day a favourite means of preparation is to boil them in brine, giving their otherwise nutty, warm flavour a salty, savoury edge. Boiling is the recommended means of preparation, as methods like roasting tend to dry the flesh out.


Modern preservation methods include cutting the seed and the shell they are protected by in half length (after husking them out of the cone) so they can be dried in a standard dehydrator overnight. The dried half seeds can then be kept for over a year without deteriorating. This contrasts to a shelf life of only a few weeks fresh. It also removes the resinous flavour and makes them into a fantastic gluten free grain. They can be easily processed into flour and make an excellent high protein grain flour. [2]


Bunya trees were held as sacred to Indigenous people. First Nations people used to gather for ‘bunya festivals’, held every three or four years between January and March, when the nuts were in season. As the fruit ripened, messengers from the tribes with custodial obligations at the tree groves were sent to invite people from hundreds of kilometres to meet at specific sites. Many different tribal groups – up to thousands of people – would travel great distances from as far as Charleville, Dubbo, Rockhampton and Grafton to the gatherings. At these harvests, large ceremonial gatherings took place, and the different tribes traded goods, settled disputes, arranged marriages, held feasts and shared learnings. The bunya festivals lasted as long as the nuts were in supply – generally three to four months.


“The Bunya Mountains, that means our Mothers’ breast – Boobarran Ngummin. This is a very sacred place. To us it is equal in status to Uluru. To all the tribes of South-East Queensland and Northern New South Wales it has been very significant, in fact for thousands of years, perhaps 60,000 years and that’s a long, long time. Our people would gather at the Bunya Mountains from these areas. It is very important that we get the right perspective on these gatherings. Some people think it was just to gorge on bunya nuts. No, it was very deeply spiritual arousing of ceremony. We went to suck the breast of our Mother, who gave us this, the spirituality that was so intense that it was a part of our bearing in this country, our Mother Australia, the Earth. We are sucking the breast, sucking the milk, the bunya nut, from her... My people – the Jarowair – … invited all these people from north, northwest, Kabi Kabi people on the coast, Rockhampton, even further. It was every three to four years, with harvests. The Jarowair sent out messages, when Mother’s milk will be ready to be drunk. Messengers, runners went out, they had message sticks. For thousands of years they were welcome, to come to Boobarran Ngummin, to suck our Mother’s breast and go back, completely healed and full of spirituality from our Mother. This is the meaning of the Bunya Mountains from our perspective. This is how we perceived the Bunya Mountains or the Boobarran Ngummin, as we call it, as deeply spiritual. All over the centuries, for thousands of years, aeons of time, my people frequented this holy place. We preserved it in this natural state and we want to keep on doing that, to preserve it in its natural state through our spiritual attachment to this land." (Paddy Jerome, Jarowair elder) [3]

 

From the 1860s timber cutters established saw mills to harvest the timber wealth of the Bunyas, with extensive cutting in the Bunya Mountains and Blackall Range. This led to the end of the great Aboriginal harvests in 1875, but began an era of intensive industrial logging that decimated the bunya forests. During the period of commercial exploitation, from about 1860 to 1930, the timber was used for "framing and boards, internal flooring, protected lining, panelling, protected structural joinery, protected non-structural joining and mouldings. Bunya pine was also used for the manufacture of butter boxes and churns; broom handles; casks; blinds; piano keys; matches; masts, booms and spars of boats; and dashboards and springboards of horse-drawn vehicles" (Huth, J. 2002. Introducing The Bunya Pine, A Noble Denizen Of The Scrub. Queensland Review 9(2): 7-20.)


The logging remained controversial, however, in 1908, concern over the fate of the big trees led to creation of the 9303 hectare Bunya Mountains National Park, the second national park established in Queensland. The park was subsequently expanded to include 11,700 ha of National Park and 7,790 ha of Forest Reserve. The last sawmill on the mountain closed in 1945, and since that time, human use of bunya pine in its native range has focussed on its value as wildlife habitat and as a source of aesthetic pleasure.


Since the mid-1990s, the Australian company Maton has used bunya for the soundboards of its BG808CL Performer acoustic guitars. The Cole Clark company, also Australian, uses bunya for the majority of its acoustic guitar soundboards. The timber is valued by cabinet makers and woodworkers, and has been used for carpentry and furniture for over a century.


Although the great Indigenous Bunya festivals no longer exist, an Indigenous Elder has sought to revive them, with the first festival taking place in 2007. See here for the event page on Facebook and here for an article in the ABC about them. Its purpose was not to reinvent the old Gatherings, but to reimagine the Festival for the modern audience, with reconciliation an important underpinning principle.



Image taken from Bunya Mountains Aboriginal Aspirations and caring for Country Plan - here.


NOTES:

[1] https://www.conifers.org/ar/Araucaria_bidwillii.php

[2] See comments section at https://www.permaculturenews.org/2013/11/27/the-bunya-bunya-pine-araucaria-bidwillii/.

[3] From Paddy Jerome “Boobaran Ngummin: The Bunya Mountains”, Queensland Review – Special Edition: “On the Bunya Trail”, edited by Anna Haebich, Volume 9, No. 2, November 2002. (Accessed at the Wayback machine: http://bunya.gal.org.au/_uploads/03_jerome.pdf

Recipes:


  • Steamed Bunya nut pudding: Mix one cup plain flour, one cup cooked minced Bunya nuts, four tablespoons redcurrants, four tablespoons sultanas and four tablespoons sugar in a bowl. Dissolve one teaspoon bicarbonate of soda in a small cup of milk. Melt three tablespoons of butter. Then alternately add butter and milk to dry ingredients (use extra milk if too dry). Tie mixture in a floured cloth and steam for three hours. Serve with brandy custard sauce or honey ice cream.


  • Bunya and mountain pepperberry pesto: 100 g Bunya nuts, shelled; one bunch basil; 50 g Parmesan cheese; one clove garlic (finely chopped); 250 ml Macadamia nut oil; two teaspoons ground mountain pepperberry (Tasmania lanceolata). Gently heat the pepperberry in 100 ml of the Macadamia nut oil. Finely chop Bunya nuts and mix with the garlic and 100 ml of the Macadamia nut oil. Roughly chop basil in a food processor or blender with the 50 ml of the Macadamia nut oil. Process for one minute, and then add the Bunya nut mix and the pepperberry mix. This works best if the oils are poured in a steady stream. The pesto should keep in the refrigerator for a week.


Further recipes:




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