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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.

River Oak

Scientific name:

Other Names:

Casuarina cunninghamiana, but renamed as Allocasuarina cunninghamiana.

River she-oak, Creek oak, Beefwood, Fire oak, Australian pine

Family:

Casuarinaceae

River Oak

Basic info:

A handsome tree with a graceful, weeping habit and fine, needle-like foliage. Hardy and fast growing.


These trees are usually found in sunny locations along stream banks and swampy areas, and are found across much of Eastern Australia from southern NSW to norther Queensland and inland for up to 400km. It's widely recognised as an important tree for stabilising riverbanks and for soil erosion prevention, accepting wet and dry soils.


Superficially resembling pines because of their needle-like branchlets, the casuarinas also bear small cone-like fruit and form beds of dry needles resembling the mat under a pine tree. Its flowers are tiny, brown and are wind-pollinated. 


The fruit is a nutlet about ½ inch in diameter that contains winged seeds. The seeds are eaten by cockatoos, parrots, rosellas and rainbow lorikeets. Willie Wagtails, Pee Wees and Butcher birds all favour these trees for nesting.


Flowering occurs from February to March.


It also attracts butterflies.


Once established, Casuarina cunninghamiana is waterwise and can tolerate drought, frost, seasonal water logging and moderate salinity. It is a fast-growing, bird attracting tree that requires low maintenance, only needing watering occasionally through warmer months. For that reason, it could be regarded as an “Aussie Battler”, for its survival value.

Uses and Interesting Information:

The seeds were used for food by Indigenous people by crushing them into a paste. Grubs found boring into the tree were also used for food, after being cooked. Young shoots were also chewed to allay thirst, and young cones were also eaten.[1]


Note that the presence of this tree in the fruit forest is not only for its edible qualities, but also as a “nitrogen fixer”, meaning that it takes nitrogen from the air and puts it into the soil, providing a natural fertiliser for the other trees in the forest.


It is a “support tree” in another way, too. The branchlets that fall form a thick blanket underneath the tree that acts as a wonderfully thick mulch which suppresses weeds and helps to stabilize the soil from erosion.


(In Indigenous times, this mat of fallen needle-like foliage was considered a safe place to leave children as snakes are said to avoid these areas.)


Its timber is very tough when seasoned, and is widely used in wood turning to make axe handles and heads of spirit casks.


In early settler times, it was used to burn in bakers’ ovens because the timber burns hot and evenly, and the ashes retain heat for long periods.


Indigenous people used the branches to make shelters and the trunk to make canoes. The hard timber and resin was also used for making and repairing tools like shields, clubs, and spears. The tough wood was especially good for digging sticks. Seed cones were used for jewellery, for ceremonial purposes and in children's toys. 


The roots were also used to make boomerangs, using their natural curves.  (In 1974, archaeologists found a 10,000 year old boomerang made from She-oak wood in Wyrie Swamp, South Australia.)


In colonial times, the timber was shipped to Britain, but it was considered not equal to the oak from Britain; hence the prefix she- (sorry ladies, but we are talking about 1800).


The name Casuarina was given by Linnaeus in 1759 because of resemblance to the plumage of the cassowary, the 5-foot high, flightless bird native to northeast Australia. The species name refers to Alan Cunningham, a colourful botanical explorer of the early 1800s, who is memorialized by an obelisk in the Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney.


NOTES:

[1] https://www.anbg.gov.au/gardens/visiting/exploring/aboriginal-trail/index.html

Recipes:

  • Recipes to come

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