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Plant Dianella caerulea (Blue Flax-Lily)

Corin

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Common Name: Blue Flax-Lily

Botanical Name: Dianella caerulea

Family: Xanthorrhoeaceae

Other Names: blueberry lily or paroo lily

Distribution: eastern states of Australia including Tasmania.

Field Notes: Dianella caerulea is a strappy herbaceous fruit bearing plant to about 1 metre (3 ft) high, with a thick spreading rhizome under the ground. The bright green leaves have straight or toothed margins, and may reach 75 cm (30 in) in length and 0.3-2.5 cm wide. The small (1-1.6 cm diameter) flowers bloom in spring and summer (August to January); the perianth is pale to a dark blue, or green-blue, and the anthers at the centre are yellowy brown. These are followed by small roughly spherical indigo-coloured berries which range from about 0.7 to 1.2 cm (0.3-0.5 in) in diameter.

Uses: The blue fruits of the Dianella were eaten raw. They have a sweet flavour, which becomes nutty once the seeds are chewed. Its leaves were used to make a strong fibre.

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Dusty Miller

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Here are some purple Dianella berries. Not sure of species ID, may not be D caerulea. Apparently the related D. tasmanica is not edible. (South of Mid coast NSW.) Dianellas are popular garden plants, with great variation many named cultivars.
 

Blake

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There are 15 species of flax lilly in Australia. Six in NSW. All found in moist forests, woodlands and coastal dunes. Aboriginal people used the leaves for weaving dilly bags. All species are very similar in appearance and it was believed aboriginal people ate the berries but little is known about which ones are safe.

It is generally believed that all species are edible in small quantities aside from D. tasmanica which is not edible as Dusty Miller said and will cause a mild irritation if consumed. One way to spot this one is that it has noticeably larger fruits than other Dianella species.

Photos below of what I believe are D. caerulea. Showing stem detail and ripe fruits.

Images By Blake 2011 - Lane Cove, NSW

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Aussie123

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I've nibbled many "flax" berries over the years and generally they are quite nice, but because of the cautionary notes around, I normally only eat 1 or 2. Most have been from around the High Country.
I encountered this flax in the bush on the weekend - the berries were not at all large - just average size I'd say.

They were terrible - very caustic and burning in the mouth. Needless to say I spat them out and had to wash my mouth.

I was with DD and she knows the berries too. I have always made a point of tasting anything we find first, for just such an occasion (I've had 1 or 2 bad experiences in the past), so she avoided a mouthful of the stuff, but was still curious, so she had a cautious nibble - yep just as bad !

I only took this one photos, so I'm not sure it can be identified could be D. tasmanica I guess ? Definately a more puprle coloured berry, rather than blue.
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My point is you do need to be cautious with bush foods and I generally will "take one for the team" and try newly found things first, esp important with kids I feel.


Although it is often reported as used for string and weaving (flax was the quintessential fabric material until cotton arrived), I’ve not found it to be particularly good ! Its OK, but not great.

I suspect that the fibers need proper preparation and I haven’t done enough research as yet. I think these may need to be partially rotted to separate the firers ?
Has anyone had success with flax ?
 

Dusty Miller

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http://www.anbg.gov.au/gnp/interns-2009/dianella-tasmanica.html

Says they are edible and taste like grapes. Not in keeping with the other reeferences that say not. Reading about baskets here, they were used to dye lomandra leaves when making baskets.

http://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Dianella~tasmanica might help with the ID

Hard to get good information. Obviously there ae Dianella that are inedible fom your experience.

Some bushfood forums say not used by aborigines, but Cadigal group ate D caerulea berries raw.

according to http://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/plant_info/aboriginal_bush_foods

here is an interesting article.

http://anpsa.org.au/APOL7/sep97-4.html

It makes a vague reference to toxin commmon to stypandra and dianella....

Further looking...

It seems that the poison stypandrol occurs in Stypandra genus plants, as well as Dianella plants. In Dianella plants it occurs in the leaves, but not in all species and not in every memeber of affected species. The upshot is that the leaves of Dianella should be regarded as toxic by ingestion, and probably skin contact with juices should be avoided.


These references list the D. revoluta berry as edible and tasty, D revoluta being one of the species conatining Stypandrol in the leaves.
[1] Carr, D. (1997). Plants in Your Pants: a pocket guide for the identification and use of the common plants of the northwest slopes. Greening Australia NSW, Armidale.
[2] Walker, K., Burrows, G., and McMahon, L. (2001). Bidgee Bush, An identification guide to common native plants species of the South Western Slopes of New South Wales. Greening Australia, South West Slopes.
 
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Aussie123

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Here is a Dianella in the snow. The berries have gone, but the plant is still quite distinctive:

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Quinkan

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Great thread.

For confused readers, the aussie flax plants and european flax plants have little in common other than use as textiles. Euro flax is grown for stem which must be retted (rotted partially in water) then combed.

Aussie flax is for leaf. In the raw state, it makes ok but flimsy temporary woven carriers. Think a stone age plastic shopping bag. Single use, for collecting sandpaper figs or whatever.

From what I know of here in Qld. when used for more long lasting baskets it was cut above the heart. That pale central part. No white parts were used, just dark green. Mature non seeding plant is cut, then shade dried while the maker collected enough to work with. It was then briefly dunked in water and worked while damp similar to grass basket styles. Unused stock would be spread overnight to prevent rotting or mildew.

Finished pieces are thoroughly sun dried and sometimes waved through smoke to help deter gribblies and mold.

The nearest native or naturalised Aussie plant to true european flax of commerce would probably be some of our Sida species, aka Qld Hemp, stem fibre is retted combed and used much like jute. It also contains scheduled chemicals so be wary of stockpiling too much without a valid and obvious reason.

Areas that host a lot of flax lily also often host rusty trefoil (Desmodium) which is good for small, fine basketwork and Cyperus species which are very similar to the classical Papyrus, and also have numerous ethnobotanically relevant medicinal uses around the world.

Also worth remembering that many Aboriginal groups would use for survival food many plants that are less than palatable and at times practiced geophagy to offset absorption of potential toxins.

Wombat berries for example basically taste pretty rough but they're "edible", in terms of staving off hunger til you find something less awful.
 

Toddy

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Really interesting thread :cool:

So, this flax is hardy ? Very tempting, especially if it's edible too :)

The baskets made here from this kind of leaf, not retted out for fibres I mean, are generally allowed to wither on the plant and then gathered. Lightly dampened they are then twisted into cordage. The cordage is not so much strong as it is flexible and can be woven If plyed up they can be used for split ply braiding to make belts, tump lines, etc.,
Used with green in them and they shrink out of their twisting and loosen.

Cordage made this way is a very, very old technique and with a little care can last very well indeed. It doesn't do well in damp and mildewy conditions for instance.

It has loads of advantages though; it's very lightweight, the materials are easily collected, it's multi purpose, and it can be made by those who are no longer quite as able to get around as they once did.

In any society, it's often worth not underestimating the useful work that the young and elderly do that assists the active members in their hunting and foraging/ daily lives etc.,
Pre TV and electricity everyone contributed their skill and labour.

M
 

Aussie123

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Dianella are starting to fruit again:
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FYI - These were inedible - very "caustic" if you touch them to your lip !
 
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