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Dianella – the Beauty of the Flax Lily

Wildflower Photography with marysejansenart

Zooming in on small wildflowers – part 4

Dianella - Blueberry Lily by Maryse Jansen
Blueberry Lily (Dianella caerulea)

Discovering the Dianella plant

I’m on a walk with a friend and she points out a Dianella plant to me. It has beautiful blue berries which, she tells me, are supposed to be edible. She learned this on a bush tucker walk she did recently with a local Aboriginal guide. We take a closer look.

For my non-Australian readers: Bush-tucker means any wild animal, insect, plant or plant extract, etc traditionally used as food by native Australians.

The plant looks like a clump of tall grass, much like the Lomandra Longifolia. Surprisingly the Dianella and the Lomandra are actually from different taxonomic families! The Dianella belongs to the Asphodelaceae and the Lomandra to the Asparagaceae. World wide there are around 40 species of Dianella, about half of which are native to Australia. There are 51 species of Lomandra and they are all native to Australia.

When there are no flowers or fruits, they are quite difficult to tell apart. The leaves of the most common species here in south-east Queensland look very similar. But take a closer look and you’ll find that the Lomandra has toothed leaf tips, while the Dianella leaves have a thick mid vein. This vein is clearly visible in the featured image. When my friend and I inspect the plant, the Dianella is fruiting, which makes it very easy to establish we are dealing with a Dianella. There is nothing quite like the intense blue colour of Dianella berries!

Beautiful Blue Berries

We don’t try to eat the berries, because there are many species of Dianella and we aren’t sure if all of them produce edible berries. You can’t be too careful! I learn later that while some are edible and quite nice tasting, a number of other species are indeed toxic! But they do look spectacular and we enjoy that about it.

The best edible berries, apparently with a sweet and nutty flavour, belong to the varieties Dianella caerulea (also known as Blueberry Lily) and Dianella congesta (also known as Beach Flax Lily). Apart from the berries, Aboriginal people also eat the roots, after pounding and cooking them. The roots of Dianella Longifolia are known to have antiviral properties! Again, don’t try this at home unless you really know what you’re doing!

Dianella - Beautiful Blue Berries by Maryse Jansen
Beautiful Blue Berries (Dianella congesta – Beach Flax Lily)

The strappy leaves are perfect for weaving, and that is another thing Aboriginal people will use this plant for. Baskets, Dilly Bags and cord can all be made from the long leaves.

Pretty Little Flowers

On a later occasion I come across a Dianella plant that is flowering, and I kind of fall in love with those pretty, tiny flowers! The flowers grow in an inflorescence, something I talked about in my recent post about Grevillea Flowers. Inflorescences come in many forms. While the Grevillea is a simple inflorescence, the Dianella is an example of a compound inflorescence.

Have a look at the featured image to see how this takes shape. From the Dianella caerulea a long stem rises above the plant to 1.5m tall. The leaves grow only up to 80cm. This stem is called the main axis and it is the darker stem in the photo. From this main axis small branches split off, each carrying an inflorescence of multiple little flowers. A couple of these side branches are visible in the image, each carrying a bunch of flower buds, only one of them fully opened as a flower.

These flowers are a pretty purplish-blue. There are slight variations in colour between the different species of Dianella, sometimes leaning more to a whitish blue. There are also slight variations in the size of the flowers. Some flowers only reach a diameter of 1cm, while others reach 1.6cm. They have six petals and six orange-yellow or yellow stamen and they indeed look like tiny lilies.

Did you know the name Dianella is a reference to the Roman goddess Diana? Diana is the goddess of the hunt, wild animals, fertility and the moon. The suffix ella means “small”.

Dianella in the bush and in your garden

Dianellas grow in a wide range of habitats, including sand dunes (Beach Flax Lily). As long as they are in sunny or semi shaded places and in a well-drained soil they can grow fast and establish quickly into hardy plants. You can find them throughout Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.

Their attractive appearance and low maintenance make them an ideal addition to your garden. Native plants like these attract butterflies and fruit-eating birds. Their dense growth provides great shelter for small reptiles, like the Garden Skink. Meanwhile the Dianella does a good job of stabilizing the soil and preventing erosion.

During my latest episode of ‘Come for a walk in the Australian Bush’, I come across one of these plants and it’s currently flowering. A native bee is taking it’s time to take all the goodness from one of the little flowers! Check it out, and the other interesting things I spotted on this walk, by watching the video below:

If you are interested in purchasing the featured image ‘Blueberry Lily’ or would like to see what it looks like on the various products, please head to my shop. If you prefer Beautiful Blue Berries, click shop here.

Check out other posts in the series ‘Zooming in on Small Wildflowers’ here.

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