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The Red and the Blue with tiny Ants. Decaisnina signata, Mindil Park, Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia | by Rana Pipiens
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The Red and the Blue with tiny Ants. Decaisnina signata, Mindil Park, Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia

In 1803 the now famous botanist and naturalist Jean Baptiste Leschenault de La Tour (1773-1826) - scientific member of the crews led by Frenchman Nicholas Thomas Baudin (1754-1803) to explore Australian coasts - had to be left behind on the island of Timor due to his bad health. In spite of this he continued to collect plants before moving on to Java and returning to France in 1807. On Timor he found this wonderful semi-parasite identified by the Belgian botanist Joseph Decaisne (1807-1883) as Loranthus indicus in 1831. When Philippe Édouard Léon Van Tieghem (1839-1914) published his extended and highly interesting - also from the viewpoint of scientific self-correction - standard description of our plant (1895), he renamed it for his revered teacher and friend, Decaisne: Decaisnina signata. That's today still the name it goes by (according to IPNI, the International Plant Names Index) although I see from the internet there's some confusion.

Decaisnina signata is also found in New Guinea and it is relatively widespread in northern Australia. I didn't see any in the George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens but there are two stands of it in Mindil Park not far away, bright against the blue-blue sky.

Incidentally, the name Mindil Park has a botanical background. 'Mindil' derives from the similar-sounding word in the Larrakia language of native north-Australians. It means nut grass or sweet nut grass (Cyperus rotundus). This is a small plant with a nodule root which tastes good and can be used as a food. Nutgrass is considered a noxious weed in Australia today. I wonder: are semi-parasites 'noxious' too? As far as 'mindil' goes, I don't think it's sold at the very busy markets held a couple of nights a week at Mindil Park as the sun gloriously sets; at least, I didn't see any even after asking around (people looked at me a bit curiously, though...).

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Taken on July 3, 2011