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An Aboriginal name for rainforest trees

supplied by Leonie Coghill 11 November 2013

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new genus of rainforest trees from Queensland is being published in the journal Australian Systematic Botany and is being named ‘Karrabina’ after the Aboriginal (Yugambeh) language name for the genus. It is only the second genus in Australia that is named after the Aboriginal name of the plant, and is the first tree to be named in this manner. This study was undertaken by an international team of researchers: Dr Helen Fortune Hopkins (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London), Dr Andrew Rozefelds (Queensland Museum) and Dr Yohan Pillon (University of Hawaii). Prior to this new research, the Australian species had been thought to belong to a genus of plants that occurs in New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Fiji. Their studies, which included the use of molecular data, showed, however, that the Australian plants were distinct. Dr Rozefelds said “It is perhaps surprising that this didn’t happen much earlier because of the startling differences in the appearance of the flowers in these two genera of plants”. He also pointed out “as they occur in biogeographically separate regions there has been little detailed work undertaken in the past to compare the plants in order to better understand their relationships”. The end result was that a new name was required for the Australian species. The researchers sought advice from Dr Margaret Sharpe and other linguists about an appropriate

Above left: Karrabina biagiana. Image: CSIRO Above right: Geissios magnifica. Image: Jason Bradford

Aboriginal name for these trees, which occur in south eastern and north east Queensland. They also contacted Patricia O’Connor, a member of the Yugambeh Community, who has been involved in recording and preserving the language in the Yugambeh region, an area which extends from the Logan River in the north to the Tweed River in the south. Patricia said “It is important that Aboriginal knowledge and word use are passed on to future generations.” She pointed out that the Aboriginal name for the trees was also the common name for other forestry trees i.e .‘Car(r) abeen’. Dr Rozefelds was asked why Aboriginal names appear so rarely as the basis of scientific names and he said that “in part, this is because botanists were expected to use formal Latin and Greek words when naming and describing new plants, and language barriers also precluded the adoption of

indigenous names and knowledge of these trees”. He also pointed out that much of the early research on the Australian flora was done by botanists who were based in Europe, who were not in contact with Aboriginal communities in Australia. More recently Aboriginal names, where they are known, are being used as a base for scientific names, but only rarely has the original Aboriginal name been used in the case of plants, although the adoption of the name Karrabina, shows that these attitudes are changing. The only other genus that is known to be named after the Aboriginal name is Yakirra Lazarides & R.D. Webster. See ‘Yakirra (Paniceae, Poaceae), a new genus for Australia’ in Brunonia 7: 289-296 (1984). ‘The name Yakirra is an Aboriginal term for some of the species of the genus (P.K. Latz, personal communication).’ Page 1


An aboriginal name for rainforest trees