Uses of Plants Found in Goondiwindi Botanic Gardens
The plants of the Upper Darling Basin have played a vital role in the survival of humans for thousands of years. Plant species and their uses have changed over time. For instance, some species that were originally important to the Aboriginal people as food for kangaroos are now valued by graziers running sheep and cattle. It is hard to imagine our lives being the same as they are today without the rich variety of plants in the region.
Aboriginals depended on a wide range of plants for food, shelter, and support for the animals they hunted. The fruit of various species supplied essential vitamins and minerals. The fern Nardoo provided high levels of starch, and the roots of many herbs, forbs and aquatic plants were important ‘greens’. Woody plants were used for making many essential tools and weapons such as spears, canoes, axe handles and boomerangs. Dillies were made from dried reeds, and didgeridoos from hollow logs. There is an interesting collection of food and medicine plants used by Aboriginals towards the North East corner.
The Aboriginal inhabitants influenced the makeup of the vegetation through their practice of burning over many thousands of years. The settlement of the region by Europeans in the mid 1800’s resulted in dramatic changes in the use and importance of plants. Although many introduced species have replaced the native vegetation, the early settlers were very much dependent on the ‘the bush’ for timber, feed for grazing stock, and indirectly for the fertility of much of the farming land.
The nitrogen fixing ability of the brigalow tree (Acacia harpophylla) resulted in the development of large areas of highly fertile farming land when large scale clearing commenced in the 1930s. Agricultural activities have also lead to significant modifications to the vegetation of the region through clearing, planting of introduced species, and the introduction of weeds (alien species). One the most notable of these is the prickly pear, which was brought in as a garden plant and spread so vigorously that it threatened to take over large sections of the landscape. It was only the introduction of a cactus-eating insect called cactoblastus that brought it under control.
Because the original plant communities have been so greatly modified, it is important to maintain some areas in their natural state as a “living record” of the past. This is not only important for historical reasons, but can also provide valuable information when we need to repair landscapes that have become degraded and are losing their productive capacity. Reserves of natural vegetation are sources of genetic material, and help us to preserve the rich variety of plant species that are an essential part of healthy ecosystems.