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Xanthorrhoea semiplana - Anstey Hill.JPG
X. semiplana
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Asparagales
Family: Xanthorrhoeaceae
Subfamily: Xanthorrhoeoideae
Genus: Xanthorrhoea
Sol. ex Sm.

28 species

Distribution of Xanthorrhoeaceae s. str.

Acoroides Sol. ex Kite, not validly published

Xanthorrhoea (/zænθˈrə/[2]) is a genus of about 30 species of flowering plants endemic to Australia and a member of family Xanthorrhoeaceae, being the only member of subfamily Xanthorrhoeoideae.[1] The Xanthorrhoeaceae are monocots, part of order Asparagales.[3]


A reference to its yellow resin,[2] Xanthorrhoea literally means "yellow flow" in Ancient Greek. Smith named it in 1798,[4] from xanthos (‘yellow, golden’) and rhœa (‘flowing, flow’).[2] The invalid Acoroides (‘Acorus-like’[5]) was a temporary designation in Solander's manuscript from his voyage with Cook, originally not meant for publication.[4]

The best-known common name for the Xanthorrhoea is blackboy, based on the purported similarity in appearance of the trunked species to an Aboriginal boy holding an upright spear. Some people now consider this name to be offensive, or at least belonging to the past, preferring instead grasstree and – for its resin-yielding species – grass gum-tree.[2]

In the South West, the Noongar name balga is used for X. preissii. In South Australia, Xanthorrhoea is commonly known as yakka, also spelled yacca and yacka, a name probably from a South Australian Aboriginal language,[6] mostly likely Kaurna.


The "trunk" of Xanthorrhoea is a hollow ring of accumulated leaf bases. Nutrient transport is via aerial roots that run down the centre.

All are perennials and have a secondary thickening meristem in the stem. Many, but not all, species develop an above ground stem. This is rough-surfaced, built from accumulated leaf-bases around the secondarily thickened trunk. The trunk is sometimes unbranched, some species will branch if the growing point is damaged, and others naturally grow numerous branches.

Flowers are borne on a long spike above a bare section called a scape; the total length can be up to four metres long in some species. Flowering occurs in a distinct flowering period, which varies for each species. Flowering can be stimulated by bushfire, in which case it occurs in the next flowering period after the fire.

Growth rates[edit]

The rate of growth of Xanthorrhoea is very slow. However, this is often generalized to mean they all grow at the rate of about an inch (2½ cm) per year. Actually, after the initial establishment phase, the rate of growth varies widely from species to species. Thus, while a five-metre-tall member of the fastest-growing Xanthorrhoea may be 200 years old, a member of a more slowly growing species of equal height may have aged to 600 years.


Xanthorrhoea may be cultivated, as seed is easily collected and germinated. While they do grow slowly, quite attractive plants with short trunks (10 cm) and leaf crowns up to 1.5 m (to the top of the leaves) can be achieved in 10 years. The slow growth rate means that it can take 30 years to achieve a specimen with a significant trunk. Most Xanthorrhoea sold in nurseries are established plants taken from bushland. Nurseries charge high prices for the plants. However, there is a very low survival rate for nursery-purchased plants, which may take 3–4 years to die. The most successful examples of transplanting have been where a substantial amount of soil (> 1 cubic metre) has been taken with the plants.

Traditional Aboriginal uses[edit]

Xanthorrhoea is important to the Aboriginal people who live where it grows. The flowering spike makes the perfect fishing spear. It is also soaked in water and the nectar from the flowers gives a sweet-tasting drink. In the bush the flowers could reveal directions, since flowers on the warmer, sunnier side – usually north – of the spike often open before the flowers on the cooler side facing away from the sun.[7]

The resin from Xanthorrhoea plants is used in spear-making[8] and is an invaluable adhesive for Aboriginal people, often used to patch up leaky coolamons (water containers) and even yidaki (didgeridoos). The dried flower stalk scape was also used to generate fire by the hand drill friction method.

Similar plants[edit]

Kingia and Dasypogon are unrelated Australian plants with a similar growth habit to Xanthorrhoea. Both genera have at times been confused with xanthorrhoeas and misnamed as "grasstrees". Some plant classification systems such as Cronquist[9] have included a wide range of other genera in the same family as Xanthorrhoea. However, later anatomical and phylogenetic research has supported the view of Dahlgren[10] who regarded Xanthorrhoea as the sole member of his family Xanthorrhoeaceae sensu stricto, which is now treated as the subfamily Xanthorrhoeoideae of a much more broadly defined family Xanthorrhoeaceae.[11]


5-metre-tall Xanthorrhea drummondii in the Avon Valley National Park, Western Australia

According to the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families, as of September 2014 the following species are accepted[1]

  1. Xanthorrhoea acanthostachya D.J.Bedford - WA (Western Australia)
  2. Xanthorrhoea acaulis (A.T.Lee) D.J.Bedford - NSW
  3. Xanthorrhoea arborea R.Br. - NSW
  4. Xanthorrhoea arenaria D.J.Bedford - Tas
  5. Xanthorrhoea australis R.Br. - NSW SA Tas Vic
  6. Xanthorrhoea bracteata R.Br. - Tas
  7. Xanthorrhoea brevistyla D.A.Herb. - WA
  8. Xanthorrhoea brunonis Endl. in J.G.C.Lehmann - WA
  9. Xanthorrhoea caespitosa D.J.Bedford - SA
  10. Xanthorrhoea concava (A.T.Lee) D.J.Bedford - NSW
  11. Xanthorrhoea drummondii Harv. - WA
  12. Xanthorrhoea fulva (A.T.Lee) D.J.Bedford - NSW, Qld
  13. Xanthorrhoea glauca D.J.Bedford - NSW, Qld, Vic
  14. Xanthorrhoea gracilis Endl. in J.G.C.Lehmann - WA
  15. Xanthorrhoea johnsonii A.T.Lee - NSW, Qld
  16. Xanthorrhoea latifolia (A.T.Lee) D.J.Bedford - NSW, Qld
  17. Xanthorrhoea macronema F.Muell. ex Benth. - NSW, Fraser Island in Qld
  18. Xanthorrhoea malacophylla D.J.Bedford - NSW
  19. Xanthorrhoea media R.Br. - NSW
  20. Xanthorrhoea minor R.Br. - NSW, Vic, SA
  21. Xanthorrhoea nana D.A.Herb. - WA
  22. Xanthorrhoea platyphylla D.J.Bedford - WA
  23. Xanthorrhoea preissii Endl. in J.G.C.Lehmann (syn. Xanthorrhoea pecoris F.Muell.) - WA
  24. Xanthorrhoea pumilio R.Br. - Qld
  25. Xanthorrhoea quadrangulata F.Muell. - SA
  26. Xanthorrhoea resinosa Pers. (syn. Xanthorrhoea hastilis Pers. - NSW, Vic
  27. Xanthorrhoea semiplana F.Muell. - SA, Vic
  28. Xanthorrhoea thorntonii Tate - WA, NT, SA

See also[edit]

  • Kingia – an unrelated genus, but of similar appearance


  1. ^ a b c Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
  2. ^ a b c d "xanthorrhœa". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.) "Bot. (With capital initial.)"
  3. ^ Bedford, D. J. (1986). "Xanthorrhoea", in: A. S. George, (Ed) Flora of Australia 46:148–169. ISBN 0-644-04356-3.
  4. ^ a b Nelson, E. Charles (June 1993). "The names of the Australian grass-tree: Xanthorrhoea Sin. and Acoroides C. Kite (Xanthorrhoeaceae)". Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 112 (2): 95–105. doi:10.1006/bojl.1993.1044. 
  5. ^ Gledhill, D. (2008). The Names of Plants. Cambridge U. Press. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-521-86645-3. 
  6. ^ Peters, Pam, The Cambridge Australian English Style Guide, Cambridge University Press, 1996, p823. ISBN 978-0-521-57634-5
  7. ^ Gardening Australia - Fact Sheet: Xanthorrea
  8. ^ Quantum - Ancient Resin
  9. ^ Cronquist, A.J. An Integrated System of Classification of Flowering Plants, Columbia University Press, New York 1981. ISBN 0231038801
  10. ^ Dahlgren, R. M. T. (1980). "A revised system of classification of the angiosperms". Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 80 (2): 91–124. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8339.1980.tb01661.x. 
  11. ^ Chase, Mark W.; Reveal, James L.; Fay, Michael F. (2009). "A subfamilial classification for the expanded asparagalean families Amaryllidaceae, Asparagaceae and Xanthorrhoeaceae". Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 161 (2): 132–6. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8339.2009.00999.x. 

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