Most people don’t associate grasstrees with the Strathbogie Ranges but some small patches of these iconic plants can be found on the driest north west facing slopes around Avenel and East of the Hume HWY below the Avenel Maze. Large numbers were bulldozed to build the duel carriage Hume Freeway in this location.The Grasstree Rest Area on the Freeway between Seymour and Avenel contains some excellent samples of what was probably more common.Grasstrees are very slow growing and long lived , they have a shallow root system, enabling them to more easily access nutrients available decaying litter, however this also means they are not able to tolerate major disturbances to the root system . Those at Avenel must be old as they have developed multi trunks . It was pleasing to discover many juvenile plants scattered around the site as well as mature plants that had died and disintegrated with old age.
The Southern Grasstrees have a long history of cultural use both by indigenous people and subsequently by Europeans. They were a staple plant for aborigines, providing food,drink, fibre and materials for making implements and weapons. The dried flower stems were used for spears and to light fires as a base for rubbing sticks. The resin flakes were collected from around the base of the stock, which were heated and the resulting substance rolled into balls that were later used to glue stone flakes to wooden spear shafts. This resin was also used to join and repair broken implements. The white tender sections of the leaf bases were eaten as well as the seed which was collected and ground into into flour to provide a dough for damper. Grasstrees also provided edible grubs that could be dug out of the base of the truck. The flower nectar was used to produce a sweet fresh , slightly fermented drink by soaking the flowering spike in water.
The grasstree is very popular in horticulture and has been a fashionable landscape feature.
Fire stimulates flower production , triggering more than 80% of individuals in a population to simultaneously develop flowers. Strangely most grasstrees are developing flower spikes this season without fire stimulation. I hope this a not a hints of things to come !
The great threat to grasstrees is the soil borne disease Phytophtora cinnamomi ( root rot) and they are often this first species to show symptoms of the disease.
Grasstrees are also intolerant of phosphorus