Desert Walnut (Owenia reticulata.) “Turtujarti” - A native of the Great Sandy Desert

Monday, Mar 28, 2011 at 20:57


Desert Walnut (Owenia reticulata.)

“Spook Tree”

The Great Sandy Desert bioregion covers an area totaling 405, 200 sq. kms within Western Australia and Northern Territory. Approximately 75% of this bioregion lies within Western Australia. The region comprises extensive sandplains, dunefields, lakes and remnant rocky outcrops. The GSD’s most famous features are the monoliths Uluru and Kata Tjuta in the very south east of the bioregion. The area is sparsely populated with the main centres being Yulara in the Northern Territory and Telfer in Western Australia. Almost all the region's rainfall comes from monsoonal thunderstorms or the occasional tropical cyclone rain depression.

The Desert Walnut is certainly one of the most conspicuous trees in the Desert with its deep green foliage and gnarled bark. Growing from 4 to 14 metres in height, the native walnut varies wildly in size depending on its habitat. It prefers stony flatlands and seasonally moist spinifex grasslands, where it develops an erect, rounded growth habit covered in dull green leaves. Native walnut shares much of its range with desert oak.

The trees are a welcome source of shade in an environment where flora of a significant size can be a rarity. The torturously twisted limbs give the tree an eerie, haunted look which led to us coining them “Spook Trees”. The outer bark is often thick and cork like. The timber itself is dense and blond with a deep red heartwood.

Owenia is a genus of plants, mainly trees in the mahogany family Meliaceae. They are endemic to Australia and fairly widespread across the continent. There are five species in the genus, most from New South Wales and living in conditions ranging from wet rainforest to the verges of the desert.

The indigenous inhabitants of the land knew the nuts as a food source “Ngarlka” and the walnut trees themselves as “Turtujarti”. The tree was allegedly used for medicinal purposes with the Leaves and young stems heated then crushed and soaked in water. The resulting liquid is then thickened and used as a poultice. Seeds were roasted and extracted, then used to rub on external sores. Other members of the Owenia genus include the Emu Apple (Owenia acidula) which was also used for Shade, Food (fruit) by the local inhabitants

''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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