June 5, 2023 4:27 pm

Noongar Nation of southwestern Australia is dwelling to the world’s biggest parasitic plant, a mighty mistletoe that blooms every single December. That is why it is generally recognized as WA’s Christmas Tree. But it also goes by other names, mungee and moodjar. And it holds terrific significance for Noongar persons like the Merningar persons of the south coast.

Whilst the special biology and charisma of the species (Nuytsia floribunda) has been recognised by Classic Owners for millennia, such wealthy Indigenous understanding is barely recognized to Western science. Our investigation group incorporates 3 generations of Merningar alongside non-Indigenous scientists. In our new investigation, we set out to discover mungee’s physiology, ecology and evolution from each Indigenous and Western science perspectives.

The plant’s capability to access a wide array of sources is exceptional, enabling it to prosper in the hostile, infertile, but biologically wealthy landscapes of southwestern Australia. This is also the case for Noongar persons, whose conventional diet program reflects the biological richness of their Nation.

Mungee is a revered teacher to Noongar persons, with lessons for us all about living sustainably and in harmony with a single a further.

3 generations of the Merningar Knapp household have contributed to this investigation: (left to correct) Harrison Rodd-Knapp, Jessikah Woods, her grandmother Lynette Knapp and mother Shandell Cummings, with flowering mungee close to Waychinicup, on Merningar Nation.
Alison Lullfitz, Author offered

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A sand-loving parasite

Nuytsia floribunda is widespread across Noongar Nation (Boodja) and recognized to most Noongar as moodjar. But it is also known as mungee by Merningar and other southern Noongar groups. Getting mainly Merningar, we contact it mungee and use that term right here.

Mungee is a mistletoe tree that grows up to 10m tall in sandy soils. It is endemic to southwestern Australia, but widespread all through. The parasitic capability of the plant comes from very modified, ring-shaped roots (haustoria) that act like secateurs to mine other plants for water and nutrients.

We applied “two way science” (cross-cultural ecology) solutions – like a literature critique, shared recording of visits on Nation, and an author workshop – to investigate mungee a lot more completely than would be doable by way of Western science alone.

Study a lot more:
To address the ecological crisis, Aboriginal peoples need to be restored as custodians of Nation

A revered teacher supplying divine guidance

Like other Indigenous Australian understanding systems, Merningar lore is location-primarily based. It inextricably hyperlinks persons, precise locations, other organisms and non-living entities of Nation. Mungee tells precise stories by way of exactly where it lives, the plants it lives with, and when it flowers.

The species is extensively held as sacred amongst Noongar peoples. For Merningar, it has the highest status of all plants. Mungee holds essential lore about how we as humans relate to every single other and with the planet about us, related to a cornerstone religious text such as the Christian Bible.

For Merningar, mungee is a effective medium that aids restless spirits move on to the afterlife, recognized to us as Kuuranup. This enables these of us nonetheless living to be untroubled by their presence.

Senior elder Lynette describes mungee as her teacher, offering guidance on how to exist in Merningar Boodja. The annual summer time flowers represent her ancestors returning to their Nation, reminding her to cherish and respect each her old persons and her Boodja.

Lynette calls the ring-shaped haustoria of mungee her “bush lolly”. Beneath Merningar lore, digging for these sweet treats is not permitted when mungee is flowering. This is when bush lollies are scarce, so the rule is about living inside seasonal constraints.

A closeup photograph showing the specialised ring-shaped root of the mungee tree, tapping into the resources of other plants.

The specialised ring-shaped haustorium of the mungee tree Nuytsia floribundataps into the sources of other plants.
Mike Shayne

An instance of living sustainably

Mungee mainly reproduces by cloning, sending out suckers up to 100m from the parent plant to create identical copies. This outcomes in patches of mungee clones gathered with each other in tight-knit populations.

We saw parallels among patches of mungee and the communal kinship structures of Noongar society, exactly where household is a lot more essential than people.

Just before European settlement, extended Noongar households lived in largely separate groups, interconnected with other household groups as aspect of a wider geopolitical method. We see mungee as a botanical exemplar of placing neighborhood just before people, for the higher very good.

Mungee accesses water and nutrients by tapping into a wide variety of host plants. This diversity of hosts enables mungee to reside in several unique landscapes. This parallels with the sophisticated, but generally location-precise understanding of Noongar peoples across their botanically wealthy Boodja, which has enabled use of a wide variety of conventional plants.

Living a prosperous life inside environmental boundaries is accomplished by conservatively drawing upon a wide variety of sources. It offers a lesson for all who reside in dry and infertile regions such as southwestern Australia.

A landscape photo showing the mungee tree in full flower

Mungee in complete flower at Stirling Variety National Park, about 300km south-east of Perth.
Steve Hopper

A tree to be celebrated

Mungee’s vibrant orange flowers bring joy to all who witness their show throughout the celebratory summer time months in southwestern Australia. The plant’s special biology, ingenuity and charisma has lengthy been recognised by Noongar peoples and their lore.

Prolific annual flowers are a memorial to the several old persons who have cared for their Boodja by way of millennia. They also remind us to safeguard the old peoples’ legacy.

To Merningar, mungee is a useful teacher and exemplar of prosperous biological (like human) existence in the southwest Australian international biodiversity hotspot. It has significantly to teach the rest of us, also.

A close-up photo of a thynnid wasp on a mungee flower

Thynnid wasps (flower wasps) on a mungee flower at Torndirrup National Park, 10km south of Albany in WA.
Steve Hopper

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