Emu Bush or Eremophila

Saturday, May 20, 1989 at 11:39


Updated 2011 to include Eremophilas from western NSW, Flinders Ranges and western Qld.

Desert lover by name and desert lover by nature, the name Eremophila comes from the Greek words for “desert” and “to love”, i.e. "desert loving", referring to the natural habitat of many of the species.

Eremophilas belong to the family Myoporaceae which is distributed throughout temperate and tropical climates. They are small to medium shrubs or small trees. The family occurs mainly in Australia where it is represented by two genera, Eremophila and Myoporum. All species of Eremophila are endemic or confined to Australia. Currently over 200 species of Eremophila are recognised, and there may be another 100 or so awaiting formal identification.

Eremophilas are found in the semi-arid and arid regions and across all mainland states and the Northern Territory. The largest number of species is located in Western Australia with the greatest density centred on the Wiluna area. Those Eremophilas that occur in the harshest of climates have developed methods to cope with the severe conditions. Many have greyish, hairy foliage to reflect the sun's rays while other have a shiny, sticky coating on the foliage to prevent moisture loss.

The flowers are more or less tubular in shape with distinct upper and lower lips. They are reasonably large, often very colourful and are sometimes spotted. In some species the petals are subtended by a large colourful calyx. Flowers occur in the leaf axils. They contain nectar and are frequented by honey-eating birds or insects.

There are two groupings of Eremophilas, those with flowers designed to attract insects and those designed to attract birds. Approximately 75% of Eremophilas are insect pollinated with the remainder being bird pollinated. Flowers of insect pollinated species tend to be bluish-purple or white and the lower lips of the flower project forward to provide a landing area for the insects. The bird-pollinated species have red, orange, yellow or green flowers with lower lobes that point downwards to discourage insects that feed on nectar. They have longer stamens to brush pollen onto the bird’s head as the bird's beak reaches down the floral tube toward the nectar.

Eremophilas are generally tolerant of harsh conditions, including drought, fire, frost, flooding and grazing. They are locally dominant in many areas, often growing in poor, infertile sites, hence their common name of Poverty Bush. Other common names include Emu Bush, Fuchsia Bush, Tar or Turpentine Bush with many other common names applied to particular species.

Eremophilas produce fleshy fruits that are often eaten by birds and animals. The common name Emu Bush derives from the erroneous belief that the fruits are commonly eaten by emus and that the chemical changes occurring in the seed during digestion improve the rate of seed germination after excretion. In fact, the fruits of only a few species are eaten by emus and the time of passage through a bird is insufficient to have much effect on germination.

Aboriginal people have valued Eremophilas for medicinal purposes. Extracts and decoctions of plant parts have been used as liniments, medicines and antiseptics. Tribes in the Flinders Ranges scraped the bark from the trunks of Eremophila longifolia, burnt it to ash and mixed with emu oil. This preparation was then used for all manner of skin complaints with excellent results. The resinous exudates from some species were also used as sealants and adhesives.

Eremophilas have also played an important part in Aboriginal ceremonial rites where leaves and extracts were used in rituals associated with initiation and burial.

The foliage of some species is toxic and stock poisonings have occurred although other species are useful as fodder plants. The colourful and attractive flowers have resulted in a large number of species being brought into cultivation as ornamental and bird attracting plants.

These photos were taken on a trip to WA in 2009:

Eremophilas along the northern half of the Canning:

Eremophilas north of Newman:

These were along the main road running west from Tom Price and Paradurdoo.

These were in the Coral Bay - Carnarvon - Kennedy Ranges - Gascoyne Junction area:

And to the east and west of Denham:

And finally a couple from the south of WA:

These photos were taken in 2011 on a trip through western NSW, the Flinders Ranges, Birdsville Track and through western Qld.

Western NSW:

In and around the Flinders Ranges, SA:

Western Queensland:

J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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