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The Bunya Pine: a tale as old as time

Marcelle Swanson shares her personal experience of growing up with a Bunya Pine

A single cone can weigh up to 6-7kg and hold hundreds of seeds

The Bunya-Bunya Pine (Araucaria bidwillii) at my home has been a part of my life since I was a toddler.

The tallest tree on our property, even though it was not one we could climb, most of my childhood memories seem to have this statuesque tree in the background, and it has remained a firm family favourite.

Over 30m tall, and more than 100 years old, this year is the first time we have ever had a cone. For the first time ever, a large 4.5kg cone crashed onto the centre of our driveway, much to the delight of my family.

The solitary cone holds hundreds of seeds, and breaking these delicacies from their individual scales has become a communal effort which certainly has its rewards. There’s a reason hatted restaurants include Bunya nuts on their menus — they are delicious.

With a hearty rich texture and flavour when cooked in the shell, like chestnuts, they are certainly a treat to be savoured, and it’s easy to see why they were a staple for indigenous communities. A single cone can weigh up to 6-7kg and hold hundreds of seeds, and in areas where they occur in abundance, Aboriginal ceremonial feasts were traditionally held every three years. This did not go unnoticed by European settlers, however they preferred to boil the nuts alongside corned silverside, rather than roasting them over an open fire.

The description penned by explorer Ludwig Leichhardt, who spent much of his time in indigenous communities in 1842-1844, is perhaps my favourite. He wrote of the Bunya Pine, “a majestic tree whose trunk looks like a pillar supporting the vault of heaven”. Standing below it as a child and now as an adult, it is certainly an accurate portrayal of this majestic tree.

Named in honour of John Carne Bidwill (1815-1853), an English-born Australian botanist who was the first Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, he famously gathered seed of these mighty conifers from the Bunya Mountains, and rather unusually exported one to England. Originally distributed world-wide during Pangea, as the continents shifted, the southern hemisphere maintained the main contingency of these living fossils, along with the NZ Kauri, the Norfolk Island Pine, Cook Pine and Wollemi. Growing prolifically in Queensland, Bunya pines also grow successfully in most Australian capital cities, offering interesting foliage and form to any garden.

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Marcelle Swanson

Marcelle is a sustainable farmer, gardener and horticultural writer. After graduating with a Bachelor of Applied Science (Horticulture) from Burnley, she worked in print, TV, web and published 3 books before joining The Diggers Club as Publishing Manager.

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