Australian Blackboy Tree

The Blackboy tree (Xanthorrhoea preissii) is a fake tree just as the local government in the building in this picture is a fake democracy.

Two-faced blackboy, W. AustraliaThe first photo shows a two-faced example, which perfectly represents the local government meeting in the building in the photo, at the centre of Wanneroo.

city of Perth, W. AustraliaWhy do I call it a fake tree?

On the right, you can see the “trunk” of a blackboy that the vandals have knocked over. It was probably several hundred years old so that vandalism is not quickly put right.

The “tree” on the left could be several hundred years old.

The picture on the right shows you that the apparent “trunk” of the “tree” is just the old leaf bases after repeated fires have burned off the rest of the leaves.

Areal roots go down the hole in the middle from the growing tips. In a proper tree, the roots feed sap up through the trunk to the leaves.

Political Correctness

The political correctness police insist on changing the name to “grass tree.” It is not grass and not a tree, but apart from that, the name is accurate.

three spears are better than one, W. AustraliaStreet blackboy planting, W. AustraliaThe term “blackboy” was never used for the Aboriginal people, as far as I know, because their skin is not much darker than a sunburned Caucasian. What is more, the Aborigines did not wear grass skirts.

I like the imaginative name. You can see in the picture on the left, the fire-blackened trunk that looks like the legs of a black man wearing a grass skirt and carrying three spears. Most trees have only one flowering spear.

Uses of Blackboy

When the spear is flowering, you can dip bits of it into a glass of water and enjoy the sweet nectar in a drink. That would be vandalism of course, but children always break off the spears and play with them.

In theory, if you lose your way in the bush you can eat the new shoots to survive, but if you go too near the centre, you will get a mouthful of gum. You would also be destroying an ancient plant.

The spear core is ideal for starting a fire with an easily made bow drill. I have done so often as a demonstration. The only problem is that you need good tinder. If you have a tinder box, put a handkerchief in the box and set fire to it. When it is burning fiercely, close the box to put out the fire. You can start the resulting blackened tinder burning with a spark or hot powder from a bow drill.

Street blackboys, W. Australiamedian strip blackboy, W. Australia
I do not recommend the method. Neither do I recommend a burning glass. Just carry a cigarette lighter, and make sure that it is working before you go into the bush.

The Aborigines had several uses for the plant, including using the gum for gluing weapons together. Immigrants have also used the gum for varnishes and preservatives.


Only professionals can transplant native plants successfully.

You can easily grow a plant from seed, but you won’t live long enough for it to grow to head-height.

Professionals can usually lift a “tree” without disturbing the root ball and transfer it to where it will look good in your landscape, but don’t expect it to be inexpensive! Even after you have paid a large sum of money, your plant might not survive the transplant, but you don’t get your money back.

The last four pictures have all displayed blackboys transplanted to the median strip in Wanneroo Road, which is, of course, the main road through Wanneroo. Some transplants failed. The government didn’t mind the expense of trying again until they succeeded.
Blackboy after controlled burning, W. AustraliaI mentioned controlled burning in an earlier blog. On the left you can see the ashes in the bleak aftermath, and cringe. But look closely, and you’ll see the green growth that the fire encouraged at the top of the blackboy.

Blackboy in Bert Togno Park, W. AustraliaMy last post showed a blackboy at the entry to Bert Togno Park. It had no spear at that time.

You can see a much more pleasant picture of the same plant on the right. You can relax in the park amid the blues and greens. It helps to be deaf like me. Then you can switch off your hearing aids and ignore the sound of the buses and trucks passing a few tens of yards away.

It is always cooler in the shade, even on the hottest days, and there are benches scattered around so that some of them will always be in the shade, where you can relax.

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