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Lands or Red and Gold : Domesticated and cultivated Australian crops and animals

This page serves as an overview of Australian plants and animals domesticated and/or cultivated by the native Australian civilizations in the Lands of Red and Gold timeline.

NOTE: This is a work in progress, so be patient. Remember, you can always speed up the process by volunteering in the timeline's main thread.


1. Tuber plants and legumes

Long yam (Dioscorea transversa) - aka the native yam. One of the ancestral relatives of the red yam and the lesser yam. While a nutritious tuber, it mostly remains an undomesticated, wildly growing species. In OTL, it was gathered and eaten by Australian natives, but due to its smaller size, smaller yields and unsuitability for large-scale agriculture, it never became a founder crop, despite its obvious potential. In the Lands of Red and Gold universe, a mutation that occured within a small population of long yams led to the evolution of a more productive offshoot species, the red yam.

Red yam (Dioscorea chelidonius) - a vine with perennial rootstock and foliage which usually dies back over winter and regrows in spring, although the foliage sometimes remains year-round in warmer and wetter climates. It is a fictional species that evolved from certain populations of yellow yam and represents the simple natural POD for the entirety of Lands of Red and Gold. Red yams produce an edible (and very tasty) tuber as a food store. The tubers are formed quite deep in the ground (up to a metre down), and so take a reasonable amount of digging to extract, but the tubers are large enough to justify the effort. In the wild state red yam tubers can grow up to 1 kg in weight (more in wet years); domesticated red yam tubers are often much larger. Domesticated red yams have been artificially selected both for larger tubers and for a sweeter taste. Selection for relatively sweeter varieties is common to a lot of domesticated varieties of plants. This has an additional benefit of providing a higher nutritional yield for the domesticated yams, since more of the tuber is formed from digestible starch rather than water or indigestible fibre. Domesticated varieties of red yams have a lower water content (which means that they store longer) and it also means that they provide a higher calorie intake per unit of weight. Like many (but not all) Australian wild yam species, red yams can be eaten raw but are usually roasted or cooked in other ways. In culinary terms, the red yam can be cooked in a variety of ways similar to the potato or sweet potato. It is a staple crop which for most people forms over half of their daily calorie intake. Red yams are native to the central Murray Valley, but domesticated forms can be grown without too much difficulty in regions of adequate rainfall between latitudes of about 25 to 45 degrees. Cultivation of red yams at more tropical latitudes will need to await the development of cultivars more heat-tolerant and better adapted to tropical growing seasons, which will not be quick. The red yam has evolved into a form which is well-suited to the periodic droughts and semi-arid conditions along the Middle Murray. The most important of these is that red yams have evolved a process called crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM), which allows plants to store atmospheric carbon dioxide in their leaves at night, and then photosynthesise during the day. This means that CAM plants keep the stomata in their leaves closed during the heat of the day, and lose much less water than non-CAM plants. This makes red yams well-suited for semi-arid conditions, and combined with their deep roots, makes them resistant even to long and persistent droughts. CAM photosynthesis comes at a price, however; CAM plants are less efficient at absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide. This means that in areas which do have higher rainfall, the red yam is likely to be out-competed by non-CAM plants. Thus, the red yam does not grow naturally in the wetter areas of Australia’s eastern coast, although domesticated red yams can grow there provided that the soil is well-drained. (Red yams, like other yam species, do not tolerate waterlogged soils very well.)

Lesser yam - another fictional species of yam, the product of a hybridisation between the red yam (Dioscorea chelidonius) and one of its close relatives, the long yam (Dioscorea transversa). This hybridisation occurs occasionally whenever cultivated red yams are bred near wild long yams, which occurs in north-eastern New South Wales and southern Queensland. Like both of their parents, the hybrid yams have a perennial root system and their stems and leaves die back every year. The hybrid yams have tubers which are midway in size between the larger red yams and the smaller long yams, hence their name of “lesser yam.” The first lesser yams are not interfertile with either of their parents, and since yams require both a male and female plant, were effectively sterile. Australian farmers have learned to propagate yams through using cuttings, though, and this allows them to propagate the lesser yams. Since hybrids show up on a fairly regular basis, this eventually means that they find strains of lesser yams which can fertilise each other and then be grown from seed. As a crop, the lesser yam offers a lower yield than red yams, and is somewhat less drought-tolerant, but one of the characteristics it has inherited from its long yam parent is the capacity to grow in the tropics.

Warran yam (Dioscorea hastifolia) - another real (OTL) yam species which was historically used by the Noongar and other peoples of south-western Australia. Warran yams were harvested with the upper part of the tuber being replanted to allow it to regrow and collect a fresh tuber the next year. Warran yams are not quite as well-suited to arid conditions as red yams, and do not provide as large yields per acre, although their taste will be preferred by some Yaora peoples.

Bush potato (Platysace deflexa) - Australia includes a large number of plants which have been called such. This particular species' potential as a domesticable crop is being explored in OTL recent plantings. The main role of the warran yam and bush potato is as secondary staple crops which do not yield as heavily in nutritional terms as red yams, but add variety to the diet, and offer some security for food supply if disease or other misfortune affects the red yam harvest.

Kūmara/Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) - The Polynesian sweet potato that the Maoris brought with them to New Zealand. After achieving contact with eastern Australia at the start of the 13th century, Maoris gradually imported kūmara and other Polynesian crops in exchange for Australian crops and goods.

Taro (Colocasia esculenta) - Another common Polynesian crop brought to New Zealand by the ancestors of the Maoris. Later exported to the Australian natives, alongside other crops, such as kūmara.

Native indigo (Indigofera australis) - A relative of true indigo (I. tinctoria). The Aururian species of indigo produces a similar blue-purple dye to true indigo, but with further treatment fibres that have already been dyed blue can be modified to a brighter green shade. To the Tjunini, this is the most valuable colour, royal green.


2. Herbs, grasses and vines

Murnong/Yam daisy (Microseris lanceolata) - a perennial flowering plant which produces an edible radish-shaped tuber. Like the red yam, murnongs have perennial rootstock but their above-ground foliage usually dies back every winter. Murnong tubers are much smaller than those of red yams, but murnongs can be grown much closer together, and their tubers are nearer to the surface and thus require less digging. For culinary purposes, murnong tubers are treated similarly to the red yam or more familiar crops such as potatoes. In most areas, domesticated murnongs are a secondary crop when compared to red yams; they do not produce as high a food yield per hectare, but they add different flavours to the diet, and it is customary to have some land under murnong cultivation in case disease or pests affect the main yam harvest. In the highland areas of south-eastern Australia, murnongs will become a more important crop since hybrids with the related alpine murnong (M. scapigera) are better suited to upland growing conditions than most red yam cultivars.

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) - a succulent annual flowering plant which tolerates a wide variety of soil conditions, and is resistant to drought. The leaves, seeds, stems and flowers are all edible. Purslane is abundant throughout mainland Australia and much of the Old World. It has been independently domesticated on multiple occasions throughout the world. Amongst the Gunnagal, it is normally grown as a leaf vegetable; the leaves can be harvested all year round and are a useful source of some vitamins and essential dietary minerals. The seeds are also sometimes collected to be ground into flour and added to wattleseed flour.

Spiny-headed mat-rush/Basket grass (Lomandra longifolia) - a perennial sedge-like plant, with many stiff leaves that grow close together and are suitable for weaving. Mat-rush is a hardy plant which can tolerate a wide variety of soils and weather conditions. Domesticated mat-rush is grown primarily as a vegetable fibre to make baskets, nets and the like. Mat-rush is occasionally used as a source of food during lean times; its seeds and the base of its leaves are edible, and its flowers are a source of nectar, but its primary role is as a non-food fibre crop.

Scrub nettle (Urtica incisa) - a relative of the stinging nettle (U. dioica) of North America and Europe. It is a perennial plant which dies back to the ground every winter. As with its northern hemisphere relative, the leaves and flowers of scrub nettle are covered with hollow hairs loaded with formic acid, which produces a nasty stinging reaction if it comes into contact with the skin. The main use of domesticated scrub nettle is harvesting high-quality fibre from its stems, which is mostly used to make textiles, and ropes and other cordage. Scrub nettle is occasionally used as a vegetable, too; its leaves are tasty and quite nutritious, provided that they are cooked first to neutralise the formic acid.

Australian flax (Linum marginale) - a close relative of common flax (L. usitatissimum). Native flax is a perennial plant which, like many Australian plants, often dies back during winter. The wild version has long been used by Aboriginal peoples as a source of fibre and for its edible seeds. Domesticated native flax, like common flax, is used as a source of fibre for textiles; the Gunnagal will rely on linen for most of their clothing and other weaving. The seeds are edible on their own or sometimes added to wattleseed flour; they can also be used to make linseed oil, but this is rare because of its short shelf life under Australian conditions.

Bush pears (Marsdenia australis) and Australian desert raisins/Kutjera (Solanum centrale) - fruits grown on vines and shrubs suited to semi-arid conditions.

River mint (Mentha australis) - a true mint, with a flavour reminiscent of peppermint.

Roundleaf mintbush (Prostanthera rotundifolia) - the main cultivated mintbush, although several other mintbushes in the Prostanthera genus are also exploited as spices. Mintbushes, also called native thyme, are restricted to Australia. While their flavour is somewhat akin to true mints, they are nevertheless a distinct taste.

Pepperbushes - several species of pepperbushes are grown in Gunnagal lands, each with their own distinctive tastes. Mountain pepper (Tasmannia lanceolata) is the most common, although the higher water demanding Dorigo peppers (Tasmannia stipitata) are also popular. The rarest and most expensive form is the Purple pepperbush (Tasmannia purpurascens), which has the strongest taste. This was native to a small area in the Patjimunra lands (OTL Hunter Valley), but has been cultivated and spread west along the trade routes. All of these pepperbushes require some additional water to support them during drought times. This is commonly collected rainwater or well water used to grow the plants in small gardens, although there is some larger-scale cultivation using irrigation.

Sweet peppers (Tasmannia spp) - naturally alpine or cool temperate crops which require very high natural rainfall. Being further south, the Cider Isle (Tasmania) is usually cool enough to sustain these crops even in coastal areas. The alpine areas of the mainland are equally capable of growing sweet peppers without needing irrigation, but these are far enough inland (and have poor roads) that transporting the crops to ports is much more difficult.


3. Trees, shrubs and other woody plants

Wattles (Australian species of the genus Acacia) - a diverse group of shrubs and trees with nearly a thousand species across the continent. Wattles are fast-growing, can tolerate extended periods of drought, and grow even on poor soils. Indeed, they are legumes whose roots provide nitrates to revitalise the soil. They produce large numbers of protein- and vitamin-rich seeds which are a valuable source of food. Wattle seeds are pseudocereals; while not true cereals, their seeds can be used in a similar manner. Wattle seeds also remain viable for many years; over twenty years for some species.

The early Gunnagal peoples domesticate three main species of wattle, the mystery wattle (Acacia difformis), the bramble wattle (A. victoriae) and the golden wattle (A. pycnantha). Domesticated wattles are distinguished from wild varieties by having larger seeds, more regular yields from year to year, and also for flowering reliably at around the same time each year. While each individual wattle species has its own qualities, their main uses are similar. Wattle seeds are used similarly to cereal grains such as wheat or barley; the seeds are ground into flour for baking into flatbreads, cakes and similar products. They have a higher protein content than most cereal grains, which is particularly valuable in a society which does not have many domesticated animals. They are extremely important as a food reserve; the long life of wattle seeds means that they are ideal for storage until drought years.

Lemon-scented tea tree (Leptospermum petersonii)

Bunya tree (Araucaria bidwillii) - popularly but somewhat inaccurately called “bunya pine”, is a kind of conifer which in its wild state is restricted to small areas in the Bunya Mountains and a few other parts of Queensland. It produces erratic but large yields of edible seeds which were much appreciated by Aboriginal peoples; in the years when bunyas produced seeds, large gatherings of people would congregate to feast on the seeds. Bunya trees can be grown in cultivation over a fairly wide area, although they need a reasonable amount of water. In allohistorical Australia, bunya trees are also revered as sacred, although they are mostly grown on the eastern seaboard. In the inland areas, they can only be grown if supported by irrigation.

Cider gum (Eucalyptus gunnii) - used for producing syrup and gum cider (exactly what the Palawa/Tasmanians did on OTL as well). The cider gum tree is endemic to Tasmania, growing in both lowland and some highland areas. It grows easily in cultivation, and is established as an ornamental plant in some parts of Europe. Unlike most eucalypts, it can tolerate frosts and subzero temperatures. Its potential for commercial cultivation is currently being explored. In allohistorical Tasmania, the cider gum will become their most valuable crop.

Tasmanian myrtle/Myrtle Beech (Nothofagus cunninghamii) - is not actually related to the myrtle family, but is a member of the beech family. It is quite common in the wetter areas of Tasmania, and produces a timber which is used to make some modern longbows.

Black cypress pine (Callitris endlicheri) and White cypress pine (Callitris columellaris or Callitris glaucophylla) - native Australian conifers which grow reasonably well even in drought-prone areas. The white cypress pine, in particular, has flourished since European arrival. In OTL, the distilled oil from these pines is used today as a basis of perfumes and other products.

Blue-leaved mallee (Eucalyptus polybractea) - one of many Australian eucalypt species. It is native to semiarid regions such as along the Darling, and its leaves contain high concentrations of eucalyptus oil which make them useful as a flavouring.


4. Water-dwelling invertebrates

Freshwater prawns

Freshwater crayfish

Freshwater mussels of the Alathyria and Cucumerunio genus (e.g. Alathyria profuga, Alathyria jacksoni, Cucumerunio novaehollandiae, etc.)


5. Fish

Short-finned eel (Anguilla australis) - a species which migrates between fresh and salt water depending on age. Mature short-finned eels breed far out to sea, and the young elvers return to freshwater rivers where they will swim far upland in search of a home territory. The elvers can even leave water for short periods, traversing damp ground in pursuit of fresh territory. Eventually, the elvers find a home range – a stretch of river, a lake, a pond, or a swamp – and establish themselves there. They feed on almost anything they can catch – other fish, frogs, invertebrates – and slowly grow to maturity. The eels are remarkably tolerant of changing environments, tolerating high and low temperatures, murky waters, low oxygen, and going into a torpor state if conditions are poor. The mature eels can reach a substantial size (over 6kg for female eels), and will eventually migrate back downriver to the sea to repeat the process.

Australian bass (Macquaria novemaculeata)

Silver perch (Bidyanus bidyanus)

Eel-tailed catfish (Tandanus tandanus)

River blackfish (Gadopsis marmoratus)


6. Birds

Australian wood duck (Chenonetta jubata) - Domesticated by mainland native Australians since prehistoric times. First domesticated species of poultry/waterfowl in Aururia/Australia and a principal smaller domesticated animal for many native cultures (especially the Gunnagal).

Musk Duck (Biziura lobata) - Domesticated by mainland native Australians since prehistoric times.

Cape Barren Goose (Cereopsis novaehollandiae) - Domesticated by the inhabitants of Cider Island (Tasmania).

Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) - Domesticated by a small southeast Australian nation at first, then adopted by the Gunnagal during the Great Migrations period and spread further to various other places of the continent. The Atjuntja name for the emu is “noroon”.


7. Mammals

Tiger quoll/Spotted quoll (Dasyurus maculatus) - This agile little marsupial carnivore has been tamed (and to a certain extent bred) by the native Australian cultures to act as a pest-control animal. It essentially performs the same roles as the Old World house cats. Quolls do have variety in their appearance, but they are mostly landraces, rather than specific breeds. From the human point of view, quolls are just there to keep down the rats and other assorted vermin, rather than trying to breed them for show. Domesticated quolls have a couple of general characteristics which distinguish them from their wild relatives - most notably, being larger and breeding year-round - but there's not really selective breeding of quolls.

Dingo (Canis lupus dingo) - Bred over the course of centuries by the Australian native cultures into several distinct dog breeds, unlike the semi-feral dingo of OTL. All or virtually all of them come from the dingo ancestral stock. There may be some limited spread of the kuri (Maori dog) to the west, but not a large contribution. No New Guinea breeds have spread south. The Australian wool dogs are most similar to the Salish wool dog in that they must be kept quite, quite separate from other dogs. Any form of interbreeding is most likely to ruin their primary purpose as “wool” producers. So the “wool dogs” are kept fenced in, rather than running free…


See Also

timelines/domesticated_crops_and_animals_lands_of_red_and_gold.txt · Last modified: 2015/01/25 04:43 by Petike