Name: Pandanus Spiralus
Alternative names: Screw pine, Pandanus palm, Screw palm
Location: Generally around coastal regions of Northern Australia, throughout the Kimberley and Top End, and in Queensland.
The pandanus palm has a narrow trunk and long, thin leaves with prickles on the edges. The leaves can grow up to 2 metres long while the tree can get up to 10 metres tall. The leaves grow up the trunk in a spiral, hence the name – pandanus spiralus.
They constantly grow upwards, producing new leaves at the top and the old leaves at the bottom die and hang on to produce a grass skirt around the trunk. When bushfires occur, the dead dry leaves burn quickly and turn the tree into a huge fireball, but the plant survives.
The tree produces a cluster of woody fruit. The fruit is ripe when it turns a reddy-orange colour but the best time to eat the seeds inside is when the fruit turns brown. Because the fruit is so tough, you need to put it into a vice and saw through it. The seeds are said to taste a little like peanuts and coconuts mixed together.
The pandanus is very important to Aboriginal people and has a variety of uses from food to craft and even medicine. They would make didgeridoos out of the trunks, toys from the fruit and would use the leaves to make necklaces, mats or string satchels.
We first saw pandanus palms when we arrived in Broome. There were a few growing in town but it wasn’t until we were driving through the Kimberley that we saw them in the wild. We were on the road to Mitchell River when we were suddenly surrounded by a forest of them. We had never seen such a landscape before and it was like we were transported to some tropical island. Also, when we went to the Keep River, the banks were lined with pandanus palms and we stood amongst them while fishing. Don’t get too close though, their prickles are really prickly!