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Bananas From a Horse Paddock!

— by Chris Watson

Last week, Land for Wildlife coordinators went to assess a new property for membership. The property, in the racecourse/winery rural area, had some nice specimens of remnant Ironwood and Fork-leaved Corkwood trees. A portion of the property, however, had been used for horse grazing in the past and showed signs of its grazing history, with shrubs eaten below ‘horse height’.

Bush Banana fruit in an old horse paddock

A low diversity of grasses and herbs occurred, with the understorey dominated by Buffel Grass.Imagine our surprise then when we stumbled across this gem in the middle of the old horse paddock! A healthy Bush Banana (Marsdenia australia) twining up an old Ironwood stump.

The Bush Banana can be found in semi-arid woodland and mulga in Central Australia. It is often inconspicuous as its thin, woody stems wind their way up taller trees and shrubs and its foliage is often lost amongst that of the supporting plant.

The most obvious and unmistakable part of the plant are its fruit. They are large and pear shaped and often occur within a month of good rainfall. This was an important plant to Aboriginal people across the region, with most parts of the plant being eaten at some stage. The unripe fruit can be eaten raw, while the ripe fruit can be eaten after being cooked. The inconspicuous, cream coloured flowers can also be eaten.

No fruit yet, but this bush banana was
found growing in an urban backyard

The ripe fruits split open to reveal many seeds with light, feathery attachments like a dandelion. They can be spread some distance by the wind. This dispersal technique allows them to turn up anywhere around Alice Springs, provided germinating plants are protected from grazing by stock and feral animals. A specimen was also found in a Garden for Wildlife property in Eastside recently.

So if you find any straggly, not very interesting looking vines tangling their way up a tree (or even a stump) in your backyard, don’t pull it out! Let it grow for a while, or send us a picture for ID, it might be a Bush Banana!