Thursday, 2 December 2010

One part lion’s fat, one part python’s fat and the roots of an upside-down wisteria*


We all love Wisteria, particularly when it’s taking over someone else’s house or wall. But there is no denying its beauty in full flower.

We have plant in Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens with similar sprays of purple flowers but it’s a tree rather than a rampant climber. I've written before about the Tree Wisteria, Milletia grandis. It grows near the Henry Lawson Gate, on the Mrs Macquaries Road side of the Gardens.

When it’s in flower, as it is now, you won’t miss it. Like many of the subtropical trees in the Botanic Gardens it’s a late spring or summer flowerer. This one is from Africa.

Milletia is in the same plant family as Wisteria, the pea family, but it’s a different genus. It includes about 150 species from the tropics and subtropics.

It was named in honour of Charles Millet, who lived in Canton, China around 1830.

Milletia grandis is from the warm coast forests of Natal through to Transkei in southern Africa, where it is also locally called the Ironwood or Umzimbeet.

The wood is popular for making furniture and these days, two-toned walking sticks, which are popular with tourists. The plant also contains some chemicals useful to local people.

Ground up seeds of Milletia grandis are soaked in milk to remove toxins and then used as a remedy for roundworm.

The roots contain a tranquiliser which is used to encourage sleep. In fact the roots are ground up to help catch fish which must be then boiled before being eaten!

There a nice recipe on a site called PlantzAfrica.com (maintained by the South African National Biodiversity Institute). Simply mix the roots of Milletia grandis and another local plant, the Croton, with one part lion’s fat and one part python’s fat. You then burn this in your house to ‘dispel worries’. (I expect most of the worries come from catching the lion and python in the first place…)

Like the Wisteria, the leaves are what we call pinnate, with pairs of ‘leaflets’ in a row. The flowers are a similar lilac or purple, but the clump (or inflorescence) is directed upwards rather than drooping down. It’s worth a visit to see this plant in flower, and to imagine what you do with a little lion and python fat.

Image: I've used this one before and you see a few others in these posting. They are all from the tree near Henry Lawson Gate.

*This Passion for Plants posting will also appear on the ABC Sydney website (under 'Weekends' or search 'gardening'), and is the gist of my 702AM radio interview with Simon Marnie on Saturday morning, between 9-10 am.

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