Common Name: Cycad

Botanical Name: Cycas armstrongii

Larrakia Name: Ngamamba

The cycad is a palm-like plant that is deciduous. It grows to 2-4m high with a rough dark grey trunk around 15cm in diameter. There are separate male and female plants. The fronds are gathered at the top of the trunk and can be 0.5-1m long. The male plants have a rusty brown cone up to 20cm tall whilst the female plants develop pendulous blades with 4cm diameter fruit that turn from green to brown when ripe. This variety of cycad are widespread in open forests and woodlands. 

All parts of the cycad are toxic and should be treated with caution. 

Aboriginal Uses 

After extensive preparation to remove the toxins, the seeds are made into flour and baked into cakes as a source of carbohydrate. A preparation of the male cone and urine is used as an antiseptic to treat spear wounds. The seeds have powerful antibiotic properties.  

Interesting Facts 

The genus cycas has over 115 species of palm-like cycad. Sometimes called a “living fossil”, they still thrive in many habitats around the world. Despite some visual similarities, cycads and palms are not actually closely related. 

It is a most beautiful thing to witness the new bright-green shoots of the leaves unfurling in the open woodlands after the burnoff. This is a common sight when driving in the Top End in the late dry season. 

Cycads are an important totem for the Wangurri clan and the basis for many songs, dances and law. The Gospel of Mark in the Wangurri language has a picture of the cycad on the front cover! 

When the cycad fruit turns from orange to brown and starts to fall, it is ripe for collecting.

The outer shell of the fruit is cracked open to reveal a soft kernel.

These kernels are highly poisonous so must be leeched of toxins before consumption.
This process must only be performed by those with great skill and knowledge in this procedure.

The cracked kernels are placed in a woven bag and left in fresh running water for several days.

The kernels are then further crushed with a special stone and ground to shape into a loaf. The bread is wrapped in paperbark and placed in the fire to cook.

This bread is high in protein and lasts for several weeks. It would be prepared for men in preparation for their hunting trips and be an essential source of sustenance.

"There are many different stories about the cycad but this is the one I am sharing with you.
The cycad bread was not traditionally shared with women or children.
The men would break the bread when it was warm. They knew that it was a very good food that would keep them strong and was good for their bodies. If the children ate it they would not like it and it would make them sick.
When Jesus met with the disciples at the last supper, He only met with the ones who followed him in their heart. They were the ones that knew him and truly heard what it was that he had to share. They were the ones that he chose to share his last meal with."
- Yurranydjil Dhurrkay

Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.
- 1 Cor 11:28-29