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Alpar (rat-tail) Seed Story


Alpar (Rat-tail plant) Seed Story
Ilkawerne Country

Alpar is the Anmatyerre word for the rat-tail goosefoot or green crumbweed plant (Dysphania kalpari). This small, erect herb is sticky to touch and scented heavily of citrus. Growing especially well in Mulga tree communities, it is found in abundance in southern Utopia, north east of Alice Springs. It produces small clustered flowers that form long spikes, resembling that of a rat tail, as well as small black shiny seeds. These seeds are high in protein and low in fibre. Due to the sticky nature of this plant, the seeds are not shed as soon as they mature, making them available much later in the season than most other plants.

In the olden days, the women of Ilkawerne country would collect these seeds, sometimes soak them in water until swollen or cooked in hot coals, and then grind them into a powder that was used for making damper (bread). This practice is not as habitual now due to ready-made bread, however the story is continually taught to the younger ones and ceremonies are carried out to ensure its productivity.

The scented leaves of alpar were also collected, soaked in water and used as a medicinal wash. Alternatively they would be ground into a powder and mixed with animal fats for use as an ointment, making this plant a very important food and medicinal source.

Pictured right is June Bird Ngale of Ilkawerne country talking about the Alpar. It was very late on a trip out to Utopia when this was taken. I wanted to bring some Alpar back to display in the gallery and June was so happy to tell us about it. This was some years ago when Central Australia was nourished with so much rain and Alpar was growing heavily in southern Utopia. It has a strong scent of citrus which was hard to miss.