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Where have all the Yamflowers gone?

What has happened to the old Aboriginal yam plants?

The plants that sustained the first inhabitants of the Monaro region are disappearing fast, it seems, especially the Yam Daisy, otherwise known as Nyamin or Murrnong. And a research crew for the Bundian Way is calling for public support to help map their presence across the Monaro and coastal regions.

It has long been known that the first plant sheep will eat when they are turned into a new paddock is the Yam Daisy. But also pasture improvement and superphosphate have also contributed to its demise. Drought and trampling, especially compaction of the old swampy areas, has taken away some of its last strongholds.

And so the venerable old Australian food plant is being superseded by the similar-looking dandelion, of European origin.

Yam plants were a staple of the old Aboriginal people. They were well-looked after and plentiful. In the 1950s pioneering ecologist Alec Costin found the Yam Daisy species Microseris scapigera, for example, distributed all across the region, including tableland, montane, alpine and subalpine areas.

But the daisy, now renamed and split into several species, appears to be disappearing fast. It is by no means the only yam plant. Others, such as the lilies and orchids, produced the thickened roots or tubers that were such a delicious staple of the old Aboriginal people. Some of these appear to be still relatively common.

Not only is the Bundian Way seeking information to map their distribution today across the region, but its research team, led by Dr Josh Dorrough, grasslands ecologist and manager of Natural Regeneration Australia, as well as Aileen Blackburn, an Aboriginal woman, and John Blay, project officer the Eden Local Aboriginal Land Council, has commenced researches to find the best ways to sustainably manage the remaining plants.

Areas are being surveyed and with the assistance of the Corrective Services Community Outreach Team from Cooma two study plots have already been established. The impact of influences such as fire, grazing exclusion and soil decompaction in numerous plots will assist management programs. The program will go for at least five years.

This will be important if the yamfields are to be used for educational purposes, and as a cultural part of the walking track.

In fact, the team has discovered one site deservingly described as a yamfield, where close to a dozen yam species and other Aboriginal food plants are still present in high density.

Landholders and bushwalkers with information about the location of Yam Daisies are invited to contact the team at info@bundianway.com.au or on 0433 110 165. Volunteers are welcome.

The researches have been supported by numerous volunteers, Corrective Services NSW and with financial assistance from South East Local Land Services.

Photographs above:

The Yam Daisy  has sword-like leaves, entire and smooth, as distinct from dandelions where the leaves are hairy and serrated. Here a Nyamin is being pollinated by a native bee. The yamfields were important historically for many reasons.

During construction of fences Aileen Blackburn showed to workers a yam stick and some Aboriginal ways of digging them. In a coolamon she carries some yams of the Vanilla Lily.

 In midsummer, in a clump of young Yam Daisies, the edible tubers have just started forming. They would be ready for harvest during autumn.


   Eden Local Aboriginal Land Council  2012

Permission should be sought before reproducing any text or graphics.

Email:  info@bundianway.com.au

Last modified: December 14, 2012