Traditional plant use at East Trinity

I have a fervent interest in how humans have always used plants. While we don’t need to travel very far to see that (we can see it in our supermarkets every day), the way indigenous people use plants is in my opinion the most tactile and immediate. It represents a silent bond that humankind has always shared with the plant world.

Ranger guide explaining how huts are made

Licuala palm thatch hut

Recently I had the privilege of being invited to a Dgunbungi gathering. There we were given guided tours of how the elders used plants for food, medicine, housing, basket weaving and even love charms. Although I did not get to see a demonstration of how they built their shelters, our guide assured us that the one on display was a small one in comparison with the large ones they built that could fit up to 40 people. They built these shelters using Calamus (wait-a-while vines; a kind of climbing palm) as a structure, the stripped bark of certain species of Macaranga (if I recall correctly) as rope and Tea tree (Melaleuca leucadendra) bark or fan palm (Licuala sp.) fronds as thatch. What we did get to see was a demonstration of how Pandanus (screw pine) leaves were prepared for basket weaving. It looked simple but the skill with which one of the elders stripped Pandanus leaves impressed me greatly.

Djunbunji elder preparing Pandanus leaves

Seeing all these reinforced in my mind the importance of appreciation. And it reminded me that of one of the most direct ways to foster an appreciation for something is to use it, or the next best thing, watch others use it in a direct immediate way.


About David Tng

I am David Tng, a hedonistic botanizer who pursues plants with a fervour. I chase the opportunity to delve into various aspects of the study of plants. I have spent untold hours staring at mosses and allied plants, taking picture of pollen, culturing orchids in clean cabinets, counting tree rings, monitoring plant flowering times, etc. I am currently engrossed in the study of plant ecology (a grand excuse to see 'anything I can). Sometimes I think of myself as a shadow taxonomist, a sentimental ecologist, and a spiritual environmentalist - but at the very root of it all, a "plant whisperer"!
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