Murdannia graminea

slug lily


Murdannia graminea

(R.Br.) C.Brückn 1930

pronounced: mur-DAN-ee-uh gram-IN-ee-uh

(Commelinaceae — the wandering Jew family)


common names: slug lily, grass lily, pink swamp lily

native 4Murdannia was named in honour of Murdan Ali, plant collector and keeper of the herbarium at the Saharanpur Botanic Garden in India in the 1840s. Indians were widely used as plant collectors in the days of the East India company and the Raj, but they were not generally considered botanists, and the importance of their knowledge and their contribution to plant acquisition was seldom adequately acknowledged. Murdan Ali was described by Edward Madden as a “very intelligent and respectable Syyud, the first of his race, perhaps, who addicted himself to Natural History, or any useful knowledge, and in whose honour Dr Royle established the genus Murdannia.” Instructed by Falconer and Edgeworth†† as well as Royle, Murdan had “attained a considerable efficiency in Botany”, and was said to be preparing a vernacular flora of North India and the Himalaya. The manuscript remained unpublished, “the expenses of printing being beyond the author’s means”‡‡.

There are about 50 species of this genus in tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world, mainly in Asia. Graminea is from the Latin gramineus, of grass, grassy.

This is an erect, slender perennial herb with thick, tuberous roots, widespread in Queensland, NSW north of Gundagai, the Northern Territory, and Western Australia. The leaves are 10 – 30 cm long, linear and bluish green, mostly basal, with a few growing on the stem. The lamina is linear, 5 – 30 cm long, 2 – 11 mm wide, with an acute apex; the sheath is short, 5 – 15 mm long, sometimes purplish, ciliate at the orifice.

The inflorescence is a loose panicle on ascending stems up to 60 cm tall. The individual flowers are 3-petalled, about 2 cm across and blue or lavender, rarely white. It usually flowers in February or March, but flowering is sometimes initiated by heavy rain. The flowers pictured, from the grassy treed area to the north of Camp Irwin in Nelly Bay, appeared after the heavy rains in November and December, 2010. The flowers open only in the late afternoon, when the area becomes a very attractive swathe of lavender blossom – Magnetic Island’s answer to the bluebell woods of southern England (but a different colour!).

The capsules that follow the flowers are egg-shaped, enclosed by the persistent sepals, about 1 cm long, and contain 4 or 5 seeds in each locule, grey-brown to black, angular, and pitted.
The indigenous peoples ate the tuberous roots.


Lt Col Edward Madden (1805-1856), Irish-born botanist specializing in the mountain plants of the Himalayan passes.
John Forbes Royle (1799–1858), Indian-born British botanist who was at the time superintendant of the East India Company’s botanic garden in Saharanpur
Hugh Falconer (1808-1865), British botanist who succeeded Royle as superintendent at Saharanpur
†† Michael Pakenham Edgeworth (1812-1861), Irish botanist who spent most of his fife and work in India. The genus Edgeworthia was named for him. He was also an expert on Indian languages and culture
‡‡ quotations are from The tropics and the traveling gaze: India, landscape, and science, 1800-1856 , by David Arnold, 2006



Photographs taken at Nelly bay 2010, 2015
Page last updated 8th February 2019