Rowes Bay Wetlands

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Woodland Plants - Coastal and Fringe Dwellers 

Plants of the wetlands and woodlands of Rowes Bay and the Town Common that we take for granted were a rich resource to indigenous Australians as they stored the energy of the sun and were a seasonal source of food and materials for the Aboriginal Traditional Owners.

Some of the more common plants that are found in and around the Rowes Bay wetlands and sand island are shown below including some examples of bush tucker and medicinal plants used by Townsville’s Traditional Owners.

Woodland Plants

Cocky Apple (Planchonia careya)

This is a very important tree to Aboriginal people around Townsville. Called Calendar plant it tells people with its flowers when it is fishing time for barramundi and when turtles are fat and ready to eat. Bark is also used to make belts and dilly bags. Boomerangs are made out of the timber.

Moreton Bay Ash (Corymbia tessellaris)

Common across the coastal landscape preferring soils the moist side of dry. It is distinguished by its tessellated ‘sock’.

Coastal Bloodwood (Corymbia clarksoniana)

This tree has brownish-grey tessellated or scaly bark on the trunk, branches and branchlets.

Sandpaper Fig (Ficus opposita)

Scrapings of inner bark from the stem and the roots are boiled in water. The liquid is cooled, strained and taken frequently in small doses. This is an excellent remedy for diarrhoea and is also used as eyewash. The small fruit can be eaten when ripe (red to brown) and is a favoured food of many birds. The leaves are used as sandpaper on wooden tools.

Red Ash or Soap Tree (Alphitonia excelsa)
The leaves of these trees are used as soap when crushed with water to make lather. Leaves, roots and bark are used for medicinal purposes for sore eyes, upset stomach and headaches. Leaves are also used to wrap meat, which is cooked in an open fire. The ash of the burnt timber can be mixed with water to apply to ringworms and skin disorders.

Silver's Wattle (Acacia holosericea)

There are many traditional uses of Acacias. The leaves and immature green pods of Silver's Watte are used as bush soap. The wood can also be used for spear shafts. A preparation made from the tree's foliage is used as a medicinal bath, while the bark is used to treat wounds and headache. The seeds from the Acacia holosericea are edible and contain nutritional value.

Peanut Tree (Sterculia quadrifida)

The seeds from the peanut tree can be eaten raw and taste similar to raw peanut. The inner bark was used by Aboriginal people for weaving baskets, to make string, rope, nets and fishing lines.

An infusion made from bark of the Peanut Tree can be used to treat sore eyes. Leaves can be used to treat stingray, stonefish and other wounds.

Macaranga (Macaranga tenarius)

Macaranga is a pioneering species that tends to establish in disturbed natural areas and can be a good ally in shading out exotic species when rehabilitating native bush. It has large heart shaped leaves with a stem that joins the underside of the leaf 1cm from the leaf edge.

Tuckeroo (Cupaniopsis anacardioides)

Common to coastal areas where it is often found behind sand dunes and in vine thickets. Tuckeroo is hardy and salt tolerant. The larvae of about 10 species of the Lycaenid family of blue butterflies are known to feed on the leaves.

Lolly Bush (Clerodendrum floribundum)

This is an important plant for making firesticks with the stem also used for making pipes. Roots are like parsnip to eat, but the fruit is inedible (poisonous).

Young leaves can be crushed and boiled in water; the liquid cooled and strained and used as a lotion on scaly or itchy skin and sores.

Burdekin Plum (Pleiogynum timorense)

The Burdiken Plum is one of the more popular Aboriginal bush tucker plants for its edible fruit. Fruit removed from the tree should be stored to ripen for several days in a dark, moist place including in the ground. The fruit varies in taste and can be quite tart depending on ripeness, soils and the growing season.

Sea Almond (Terminalia catappa)

A favourite tree of Red-tailed Black Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus banksii) for the ‘fruit’ and a great shade tree for everyone else.

Mango Bark (Canarium australianum)

A common tree in woodlands around Townsville. The fruit/drupe is eaten by Torres Strait Pigeons and other birds.

Coastal and Fringe Dwellers

Screw Palm (Pandanus whitii)

The soft leaf base is chewed to relieve pain of sore throat, mouth and tongue. The leaf base is also eaten raw and contains carbohydrates. The white leaf stem base is chopped, boiled in water, the liquid cooled and strained then used as a wash or dropped into red or infected eyes. Leaves are used extensively for fibre crafts to make baskets and mesh bags. The seeds (fruit kernels) are eaten raw, being tasty and high in oil content. Good walking tucker. The white cabbage is used to make a green dye and antiseptic packing for wounds

Beach Hibiscus (Hibiscus tiliaceus)

The wood of the Hibiscus tree is used to make woomeras, spears, fire-sticks and for carvings. An infusion made from the inner bark and sapwood is used as an antiseptic to treat boils and wounds and the strips of the inner bark are used for binding wounds and sometimes tied around the head to treat headache. The bark can also be used to make string, rope, fishing lines and nets. The roots, flowers and young leaves are edible.

Red Tea Tree, Red Paperbark (Melaleuca dealbata)

This is a paperbark that tolerates salt water. With any paperbark you can dig down to find fresh water. It has very strong wood that is very slow to break down so has many uses for tools.

Beach Wattle (Acacia crassicarpa)

A small to medium tree to about 8 metres high. Chiefly found in Eucalypt woodland and scrub in coastal areas. It has strongly falcate phyllodes (curved leaves) from 11 to 20 cm long, with about 7 veins more prominent than the rest. The woody seed pods are prominently striated and are 2.5-3.5 cm wide.

Native Ebony
Native Ebony (Diospyros geminata)

A small slender tree with a stem diameter of about 15 cm. When properly ripe the edible soft red pulp of the small fruit is quite sweet. Torres Strait Pigeons and other birds are attracted to the fruit.
Grey Mangrove
Grey Mangrove (Avicennia marina)

Dry old timber is burnt and the black ash is mixed with seawater to form a paste. This is applied daily to infected sores, ringworm, boils and other skin disorders and is considered to be a very effective treatment. Leaves and stems are used to relieve marine stings and bites. The timber is used to make shields and boomerangs.

Note: Aboriginal plant use information compiled by Nigel Grier for the Green Tree Ants program (Bush Tucker and Traditional Indigenous Medicinal Plants of Rowes Bay and Sand Island Reserve). Additional information from Townsend (1997), Maddigan, Allan and Reid, (2008) and Anderson (1993).