Kakadu is bursting with botanical life. Many of its plants are used by Bininj/Mungguy people for food, medicine and craft materials.
The park is home to more than 2,000 plant species. Some of the most iconic ones are:
Pandanus tree and fruit
Gonggirr is the most common of the three pandanus species found in Kakadu. You can recognise it by its ‘corkscrew’ leaf arrangement.
The dead leaves hang in skirts, providing a sanctuary for wrens, bats, mice and lizards. The ripe orange fruits are a favourite food of sulphur-crested cockatoos.
Bininj/Mungguy use the leaves of this pandanus to weave baskets and mats. The large clusters of woody nuts (madjamairerri) contain seeds that can be eaten raw or roasted.
This tall grass lines Kakadu’s lowlands in the late tropical summer (February-March), when its flower spikes can reach four metres high.
Speargrass gets its name from the shape of its sharp pointed seeds. These seeds are harvested by ants and provide an important food source for birds such as finches.
In banggerreng time (around April each year), the ‘knock em down storms’ arrive and flatten the speargrass ahead of the dry season.
Kapok bush with fruit and flowers
This small native tree produces stunning yellow flowers as it loses its leaves in the dry season. The flowers develop into green capsules, which harden and turn brown. The capsules then split open to release seeds attached to a cotton wool-like material called kapok.
Bininj/Mungguy people have many uses for this plant, which they call andjedj. They eat the flowers (raw or cooked) as well as the roots of the young plant. They also use the kapok for ceremonial body decorations and make string and paintbrushes from the tree’s bark.
Darwin woollybutt flowers. Photo by James Hunt
This common Kakadu tree has dark woolly bark on the lower half of its trunk and smooth white bark on the upper trunk and branches. The local people call it andjalen.
The woollybutt is a calendar tree – a tree that helps people determine the season and the work they need to do.
At the beginning of the cold season (May–June) the woollybutt produces spectacular orange flowers. These tell the Bininj/Mungguy that it’s time to start lighting fires to clean up the country and prevent wildfires later in the dry season.