Marsdenia viridiflora (Magabala)
(Photo bk June 2019)
Magabala Botanical name: Marsdenia viridiflora
Call it: Magabala in Yawuru, Koolookoonarr in Bardi, Makabala in Nyul nyulu, Makapala in nyangumarta, Makapala in Karajarri.
A vine which hangs dry and limp from its host tree for most of the year, Magabala suddenly burst into thick new growth in the first months of the wet, which may be as early as November-December. The flowers are small, greenish yellow in colour and borne in cluster. The fruit is green and up to 8 cm in length. Although it is referred to as the bush banana, the mayi is not yellow in colour and the skin can be eaten. It has a sticky milky sap, which is usually the sign of a poisonous plant. Magabala is a safe to eat but you must be sure it is the proper mayi.
The occurrence of the plant is widespread in Northern and inland Australia, the mayi being found in various forms. In Broome you will usually find it on the dried branches of trees along Cable Beach Road and out of town along the road to Beagle Bay.
The mayi is best collected during the wet (January - March) when it is young, moist and sweet. Every part then be eaten - the skin, seeds and pulp. Later the fruit hardens and dries in preparation for the dispersal of all its many seeds, with their spectacular parasol shaped aerofoils. At this time the fruit can still be eaten if baked in hot ashes. A light roasting makes the mayi once again moist and sweat.
Marsidenia viridiflora R. Br. Subsp. Tropica Froster Magabala or Bush Banana
Annual scrambler or climber from a perennial root to 2 m with copious white milky sap; leaves petiolate, broadly elliptic, lamina dull green above, greyish green below; interfloescence pedunculate, clothed in appressed golden hairs; flower light greenish to pale lemon yellow; fruit large, fleshy, green, ovoid follicle up to 8 cm long. The green flatted seeds are tightly clustered at the bottom of the follicle, each attached to a tuft of silky hairs. When the follicle is ripe, it splits allowing the seeds to be with the wind dispersed. Scattered throughout the Peninsula but common on coastal pindan around Broome where it is often found climbing on tall, usually dead wattle. Also found in NT and QLD.
Bardi name = kooloonkoonarr; Nyul Nyul = makapala; Yawuru = maabala. The fruit is popular food. The young tender follicle is best collected during the wet (January - March) and eaten raw when moist and sweet. The texture is crisp and the immature seeds taste like young green peas. The young follicles exude copies amount of sticky, white latex when picked. All of the young fruit is eaten but only the pit and seeds of older follicles are eaten, sometimes after warming ashes.
Flowering January, April; fruiting March June.
Magabala is a beautiful bush food. They grow on vines around the Broome area and are found fruiting from March to June. In early 80's we didn't have the strict traffic laws of today so we'd pile our boarding students from Nulungu College (now St. Mary's College) on the back of the trucks and we headed out bush with the Boarders in high spirits. They had their keenly trained eyes focused for bush tucker and the truck drivers were ever ready to respond to the loud tapping on the roof which indicated you must stop. Magabala was one of their favourite bush fruits and it grew around host trees as a vine. The fruit was a long pod about 10cm in length and inside the white part tasted a bit like cococut and there were latticed rows of green seeds which tasted like peas. It used to astound me that they could spot Magabala from such a long distance away.