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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.


“Cultural Cringe” and our national garden identity

Clive Blazey explores nativism, garden-worthy trees and planting in different climate zones

Choosing plants and trees that will survive a warming climate

Clive Blazey discusses some of Diggers plant and tree selections

Cloudehill’s living garden history

Gathered by plant hunters across the globe, the trees of Cloudehill gardens are of international significance.

Cook’s Gondwana Pine

The wonders of Cook’s Gondwana Pine - why it thrives in all gardens

Cook's Gondwana Pines fed the dinosaurs

Clive and Penny Blazey visit the Ile des Pins and explore epic forests of this ancient tree

Growing the world’s most expensive pine tree

Preserving a fossil, or setting gardeners up for failure?

Mountain Range farm and Dapto community farm

Lance Carr feeds refugees — body and soul

My best friends are trees

Clive Blazey tells how prodigious tree growth is dependent on fungal mycorrhizae in the soil

Taking responsibility for climate change by planting trees

How Jan and Michael successfully planted 20,000 trees in East Gippsland

The National Arboretum of Doom

Peter Marshall, forester, truffle grower and expert on mycorrhizae gives his forthright view

Trees for small backyards

Clive Blazey explains why trees are the most important element in any garden, particularly in small spaces

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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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