Pterocaulon serrulatum

rag weed


Pterocaulon serrulatum

(Montrouz.) Guillaumin 1937

pronounced: ter-oh-KAW-lon ser-roo-LAH-tum

(Asteraceae — the daisy family)


common names: rag weed, pintye-pintye

native 4Pterocaulon is derived from the Greek πτερον (pteron), a wing, and καυλος (kaulos), a stem, referring to the appearance of the leaves on the stem; serrulatum is from the Latin serrula, a small saw – with small serrations. Pintye-Pintye is the name given to the plant in the Arrernte language. The Arrernte people, some 25,000 of them, live in and around Alice Springs, where, in most primary schools, students of all races and nationalities are taught this language as a compulsory subject. It is also offered as a separate subject in most high schools there, and it can be studied as part of a TAFE course. Approximately 25% of the population of Alice Springs speak Arrernte as their first language. Pintye-Pintye is one of their medicinal herbs.

This is a fairly tall (up to 150 cm), strongly scented, hairy, perennial herb with alternate, broad-based leaves tapering at both ends, 2 – 5 cm long, with toothed margins and a wrinkled blister-like surface. The flower heads occur in oval clusters at the ends of the stems. The flowers are coloured white, cream or pink. The edges of the leaf stalks continue downwards along the stem, forming a saw-like ridge. It grows chiefly along dry watercourses on gravelly and rocky substrates. Some of the plants photographed were observed in the waste ground at the far end of Kelly Street, Nelly Bay, and others on the verges of the West Point road. It occurs naturally through most of northern Australia.

Pintye-Pintye is a favoured medicine for people with very bad influenza, or with ’flu-like symptoms. The leaves are collected, ground up and mixed with fat to make an ointment. This ointment is rubbed into the chest and the back of the sufferer, and into any aching joints. The strength of the Pintye-Pintye is known to be at its highest after rain. Fat available to these people is animal fat, obtained from the goanna, perentie, carpet snake, kangaroo, possum, echidna, and emu.

The name Pintye-Pintye also seems to be applied to another, entirely different plant, Stemodia viscosa, the sticky blue-rod, an aromatic perennial herb with purple or blue flowers. The leaves of this plant are also used to make an ointment for rubbing into the body to treat ’flu; so I suspect the derivation of the name refers to the medicinal qualities of both of these plants, rather than to the plants themselves.

The plant was one of those collected during the voyage of the Endeavour in 1770. It was collected by Banks and Solander at Palm Island (near Magnetic Island).


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 Nelly Bay & by the West Point road, 2010-2015
Page last updated 22nd March 2019