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Persoonia falcata R.Br. 1810
pronounced: per-SOON-ee-uh fal-KAH-tuh
(Proteaceae – the waratah family)
common names: Geebung, Wild Pear
Persoonia was named for Christiaan Hendrik Persoon (1761–1836), botanist and mycologist∗. He was born in South Africa, and was sent to Europe at the age of 13 to be educated. He studied medicine at Leiden, in the Netherlands, and in 1802 moved to Paris, where he spent the rest of his life. It is not known how his botanical interests were developed. While still living in the Netherlands, he published a huge 3-volume work on sponges; but, not long after he moved to Paris, he published the 2-volume Synopsis Plantarum†, a popular work describing 20,000 species of all types of plants. His real pioneering work, however, was in fungi. He published several works in this field, beginning with Synopsis Methodica Fungorum‡, and laid the foundations for the classification of several orders of fungi. Falcata is from the Latin falcatus, sickle-shaped.
All species of Persoonia are endemic to Australia, though a closely related species, Toronia toru, found in New Zealand, was previously considered part of the genus. One species, Persoonia pertinax, is found only in the Great Victoria Desert, while a few other species venture into the arid zone; but most are concentrated to the subtropical to temperate parts of south-eastern and south-western Australia, including Tasmania. The great majority of the species are found in areas where the soil is derived from sandstone or granite. Most members of the genus live in fire-prone areas, and are adapted in various ways so that they can regenerate after being burnt.
This species occurs in northern Australia either as a small, straggly shrub up to 3 m high, or a small erect tree that can grow as high as 9 m. It is found along watercourses, cliffs and rocks, and sometimes in gorges. Its way of surviving fires is to have what are called ‘epimorpic buds’. These are dormant buds embedded beneath the bark, and they are able to regenerate after the bulk of the plant has been destroyed by fire.
The grey to plum-coloured bark is papery, and much sought after by bark painters. The flowers are a creamy yellow, with 4 petals, growing on the ends of the branches in the winter. The fruit is a drupe, still with the style attached, green, turning pinkish as it ripens. The hard seeds are dispersed by emus, kangaroos and other animals, and also, it is thought, by some of the larger birds such as currawongs. Parrots also eat the fruits, but they do so before the fruits are ripe, and crunch the seeds. The fruits do not ripen until they have fallen from the tree. This was a popular food with the aboriginal peoples. The skin is discarded, and the soft pulp around the seed is eaten.
Aboriginal people also treated sore eyes by mixing fine scrapings of wood from the stem of young plants with human milk. They also used the wood for making woomeras and boomerangs.
∗ one who studies fungi
† A General View of Plants
‡ A General View of the Types of Fungi
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken at the Rocky Bay lookout, 2011
Page last updated 14th January 2017