Pandanus

Last updated 16/03/2015

pandanus

Pandanus are bountiful right across Northern Australia, from beaches to open woodland to dense tropical forest along river banks, although they prefer areas with some fresh water. There’s over 30 different species in Australia with the most common being Pandanus Spiralis. They all have similar features and uses. The strap like leaves have a serrated edge and propagate out from a central cluster. The points on the serrated edges break off easily when touched, often leaving splinters, as I’ve found out on many occassions. New leaves grow in a spiral arrangement up the trunk. The remnants of old leaves can sometimes be seen spiralling up the trunk, which leads to the common name of screw palm. Some pandanus spiral clockwise, some spiral anti-clockwise. I’m not sure how the plant decides which way to screw. Pandanus produce large, heavy, woody, pineapple looking fruit which ripen orange from August to January.

pandanus spiral (screw palm)

Uses

The most obvious use of Pandanus is as an easy source of bush tucker. The white growing bases of the leaves are edible and easy to access, either by pulling out individual leaves by their bases or by cutting off all the leaves to reveal the white cabbage-like cluster of leaf bases. The taste is similar to cabbage, or maybe silverbeet, or simply generic vegetable like flavour. It can be eaten raw or cooked.

The fruit separates into wedges, with each wedge housing several small almond like nuts. The wedges are incredibly hard and the nuts are very difficult to extract. I would have easily expended more energy trying to extract the nuts than what I got from eating them when I gave it a go. Slam down on the fruit wedges with a machete and you have a small cut to the surface. It took me several swings with a small axe to break apart the wedges, which revealed only one or two nuts, the rest still being hidden within the wedge requiring more axe work to access. I suppose with some practice it may become economical but as a survival food the leaf bases are probably a better option. The nuts taste good though, with a flavour similar to almonds. They’re also high in fat and protein so provide good energy if you can get to it.

The fruit wedges are tough and fibrous, but depending on species, sometimes the base of the wedges are soft enough to chew or suck to extract some sweet tasting pulp. The fruit stalk itself, which remains after all the wedges have been removed, is also edible, although is usually quite woody.

Indigenous Australians had a few other uses for Pandanus. They used the leaves as strapping or string fibre to make baskets, mats, dilly bags, bracelets and various ceremonial objects. The dead stems or branches were used to make didgeridoos as the fibrous inside disintegrated to leave a hollow tube. The dead branches were also used as fire carriers – the fibrous inside would slowly smoulder like a huge cigar, allowing fire to be transported from camp to camp. The cabbage was pounded into a paste and used as an antiseptic ointment for sores and wounds. So with these uses as well as being a bush tucker, the Pandanus is a versatile plant of Northern Australia.

pandanus cabbage

eating pandanus cabbage

pandanus immature fruit

pandanus fruit

pandanus fruit wedge

pandanus wedge split open

pandanus nut

eating pandanus nut

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See also:

Bush Passionfruit

Palm Heart

Boab Tree

XXXX Gold – Great Mystery of the Top End

Snakes When Going Bush

back to Bush Tucker, Plants and Animals

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5 replies »

  1. Hey mate just wondering if you would be able to rest my mind to peace, I planted 2x 3m tall pandanas palms about 1 month ago unfortunately on 1 of the plants the crown (centre part) broke off! Both trees are still green and the one with the crown is getting new leaves from its crown, just wondering if you think the other tree can recover and grow a new crown! Thanks Andrew 😊

    • Hey Andrew I’m not sure mate. I’m just a simple fisherman who dabbles in bush tucker. Actually I’m just a simple outback bum who dabbles in fishing and bush tucker. I know true palms die when you cut off the heart, not sure about pandanus.

  2. Pandanas are a large tribe with 14 in the family members in the Kimberley, P spiralis is a common street planting in Broome, one large example can be seen on Anne and Herbert Street roundabout, and has the largest fruit, and largest segments weighing up to 9 kg, Some are left hand screws others have prop roots. There are even some Fijian imports in Broome opposite Centre Link Building.
    All are readily germinated by placing a segment in moist sand and parting from the fruit then placing in-situ or a large pot

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