The country of Noongarh in southwestern Australia is home to the giant mistletoe, known as His WA Christmas Tree, which blooms each December. It is also called manzi and mood jar and is of great significance to the Noongars, including the Melningars of the south coast. The Munji, also known as Nuytsia floribunda, has been recognized by its traditional owners for thousands of years, yet this rich indigenous knowledge is largely unknown to Western science.
In a new research project, a team including three generations of the Maningal tribe and a non-Indigenous scientist set out to explore the physiology, ecology and evolution of the Munji from both indigenous and Western scientific perspectives. This parasitic plant’s ability to access a wide range of resources allows it to thrive in the hostile, barren but biologically rich environment of southwestern Australia.
The Munji is a respected teacher to the Noongar people, teaching us all about living sustainably and in harmony with each other. Maningal, like other Aboriginal knowledge bodies, bases its lore on location. The Munji tells a concrete story through where it lives, the plants it lives with, and when it blooms. This species is widely believed to be sacred among the Noongar people, and it ranks supreme among all plants.
Munji is a powerful vehicle to help restless souls move on to the afterlife known as Kuhranup. It represents the return of ancestors to the country, reminding Noongar people to cherish both the old man and Booja and to pay respects.
The Munji is an example of sustainable living, reproducing primarily by cloning and sending out suckers to create identical copies. The patches of Munji clones gather in tight clumps, parallel to the communal kinship structure of Noongar societies, where the family is more important than the individual.
The Munji’s host diversity also allows it to live and thrive in a wide range of environments, paralleling the sophisticated, site-specific knowledge of the Noongar people throughout the plant-rich Bhuja, which allows for a wide range of traditional botanical uses.
The bright orange blossoms of the Munji bring joy to all who witness its flowering during the festive summer months of South West Australia. For Manninger, it is a valuable teacher and an exemplar of the thriving of life (including humans) in the global biodiversity hotspot of southwest Australia. The rest of us have a lot to learn too.