Thanks to information and photographs supplied by blog follower, Ma from Melbourne, I will be more alert for the plant and flower Microseris scapigera or Microseris lanceolata known by indigenous Australians as Yam daisy or Murnong. Ma told me these plants would provide nourishment as I walked.
The photo above is located on http://www.victoriannativeseed.com.au/?product=yam-daisy . As the flower continues to open, the similarity with our common dandelion becomes obvious, and a number of websites suggest the dandelion head is similar to the seed head of the Yam Daisy. It seems perfectly understandable that this plant may be referred to as the native dandelion and it explains why, when walking in our bushland affected by the intrusion of exotic plants, the possibility of misidentification exists. From Wikipedia I have learned that ‘the Tasmanian form is markedly smaller than the mainland Australian form’.
According to http://www.anbg.gov.au/gardens/visiting/exploring/aboriginal-trail ‘This small perennial plant … has a radish-shaped tuber, which is renewed each year. In the spring the plant forms a yellow flower-head like a dandelion, and in the summer the leaves die off and the tuber becomes dormant. The tubers were cooked in baskets in an earth oven, producing a dark sweet juice which was much liked.’
The Yam Daisy has offered a traditional source of food for indigenous Australians. Wikipedia claims the tubers were ‘prepared by roasting or pit baking; the taste is described as “sweet with a flavour of coconut’. Sounds yummy to me! The website http://www.parksaustralia.gov.au/botanic-gardens/pubs/aboriginal-plantuse.pdf tells us that the ‘Yam Daisy was a most important staple food. Women dug the roots with digging sticks and then roasted them in baskets in an earth oven. Digging for roots turned over the soil and thinned out the root clumps, two ways of encouraging plant production. Aboriginal people didn’t take the lot or there’d be none left for next time! Aboriginal people believed that the roots of ‘murnong’ should not be collected before the plants flowered. This was probably because during the drier winter period before springtime flowering, the roots would not be fully developed.’
The drawing above by J.H. Wedge (1835), showing women digging roots of the Yam Daisy, is held in the collection of the State Library of Victoria. You can see a detailed drawing of a digging stick at https://www.anbg.gov.au/aborig.s.e.aust/roots.bulbs.html.
According to https://tasmanica.wordpress.com/tag/yam-daisy/ ‘… the Yam Daisy (Microseris lanceolata) or ‘Murnong’ as it is known by tuber hunting aborigines on the mainland, has a convoluted history. This makes it a subject of ecological and evolutionary interest to biologists. Its closest relatives are found in western North America. Based on morphological and chromosome studies, the Yam Daisy probably came about by the hybridization of two American species followed by long distance dispersal – quite a distance I might add. So it goes that aborigines were eating foods of American origin way back. This marvellous feat of intercontinental dispersal has been confirmed more recently by studies using DNA extracted from the chloroplasts (cpDNA) of American and the Australian/New Zealand species of Microseris (Vijverberg et al. 1999).’
In my walks along the Derwent River, I have seen these Yam Daisy flowers from time to time. Of course, next time I will look at the plants more closely.