Gadi is the First People name for Xanthorrhoea or grass trees. Gadigal or Caddiegal are the original people who lived in the area that includes Sydney and several other coastal Australian cities. According to the website, Bush Heritage, Australia, there are 66 different kinds of “grass tree”, all of which are endemic to Australia. While not yet on the endangered red list, these amazing plants – which are neither a grass or a tree – could be considered threatened.
Threats to Grass Trees
There are a lot of different reasons for the removal or reduction in numbers of Xanthorrhoea plants in Australia. Land development of all sorts, such as city expansion, industrial development, and even farming has taken over land that once grew grass trees. One way of telling the age of a grass tree or the length of time since the last bush fire is to look at the “skirt”, the lower-level dead fronds that drape down over the stem, sometimes even becoming part of the trunk. Some types of grass trees, such as Xanthorrhoea glauca, are stimulated by fire into blooming and producing seeds. This allows them to be one of the first plants to return to an area that has been burned over. Unfortunately, not all grass trees are adapted to forest fires and will be one of the plants destroyed, especially in today’s high heat events.
Disease is also a factor in declining populations. Phytophthora cinnamonni, for example, is a fungus that attacks the roots and stem of trees. This fungus can cause root and stem rot, preventing the tree from properly taking up moisture and nutrients. It is usually found in damp, poorly drained soils.
Anthracnose is a leave disease that can also inflict fatal conditions, causing the leaves to turn brown and fall off. There is a spray that can help with this, but early application is essential. The first signs are brown spots on the leaves.
One unique threat comes from humans who remove grass trees from their habitat, either to poach them for sale, to have them as houseplants without purchasing, or from a mistaken desire to “rescue” them. If you want a grass tree, you should always purchase your tree from a nursery or tree farm that is licensed to handle them.* In that way, you can be assured that you will have the information and supplements needed to keep your grass tree happy and growing.
Historical Significance of Grass Trees
It is not a coincidence that grass trees and a people should be called “Gadi.” The grass trees were a staple plant for the people who were living in Australia before the Europeans settled there. They provided food, drink, fibers, implements, weapons, glue, and a waterproofing substance. The usable parts of the grass tree included:
- The yellow, resinous sap that caused Europeans to call it “xanthorrhoea”. Xanth is a latin prefix that means yellow. It is often used in words such as “xanthan gum” which is a thickening agent. The suffix rrhoea means to flow. The sap will drip when warm, flowing down the stem of the plant, then harden when cooled. This causes the spent fronds that have plastered against the stem to be glued to it, helping thicken and strengthen the stem. The original people living in Australia used this substance as glue, varnish, and waterproofing. It did not take the newer settlers in the area to catch onto these uses, adding a few of their own, such as burning lumps of it as church incense.
- The spikey fronds could be used in a variety of ways, not the least of which was soaking them in water then pounding them to get them to separate into coarse strands that could be made into rope or woven into fiber.
- The bloom stalk hardened into a serviceable stick that was lightweight and sturdy making it perfect for use as a spear or a fishing pole.
- The blooms could be placed in water and fermented to make a sweet drink.
- The seeds could be ground into flour.
- The root could be dug up and eaten – but usually was not because this would destroy the plant.
- The soft pith in the center of the bloom stalk was perfect to use as tinder for fire starting, and the stalk parts made good fire sticks for creating friction to get the fire going.
- Grass trees attract many kinds of wildlife, and are both habitat and food for pollinators and other creatures.
With a list like that, it is not difficult to see just how important a gadi tree would be to the Gadigal people.
Ongoing Significance of Grass Trees
In our modern world, plants such as Xanthorrhoea grass trees or Gadi, might seem a little less significant. But what we are discovering now is that plants formerly thought insignificant can prove to be beneficial for a variety of reasons. Since in many ways ecology, or the study of how everything fits together, is still a young science it is a good idea to think that all plants and animals are important. Too frequently we are discovering that something affects other things in unexpected ways. With that thought in mind, what is the significance of this ancient native of Australia?
- Xanthorrhoea or Gadi fill an important ecological niche for Australian fauna. It is a food source and home for a wide variety of wildlife.
- Grass trees are an ancient species. Walking into a grass tree forest is like walking back in time.
- Grass trees are first growth after a forest fire and are beneficial in holding soil together in areas that are too dry or sandy for many other sorts of plants.
- Xanthorrhoea grass trees are beautiful, whether grown in your backyard or in a container.
Our Xanthorrhoea Glauca, Gadi, or Grass Trees
* Designer Trees is licensed to sustainably harvest Glauca Grass Trees from our own forest. We are a licensed source for many different kinds of rare trees and plants. Our staff is knowledgeable and understand how to properly transplant grass trees, how to prepare the soil, and generally how to prepare you for a successful planting not only of your very own gadi or grass tree, but how to correctly transplant and care for a variety of native trees.
We believe so strongly in properly transplanting trees, that we guarantee our trees to be healthy and free of disease, and even place a year’s warranty on them. We are glad to consult with people who purchase a tree from us, helping you care for your new tree and keep it in good health. You might almost say that trees are our business.