by Greg Calvert (native plants queensland)
There are several stories about the meaning of the Aboriginal word “Millaa-Millaa” which gave the Atherton Tablelands town its name. One is that it means “a very wet place”. Another translates as to “what did you say?”, which was supposedly the Aboriginal reply when asked the name of the area. The other source for the town’s name is that it was the name applied to the common rainforest vine Elaeagnus triflora. Perhaps, when the explorer waved his hand around indicating the general area, the rainforest aborigine thought he was pointing out the vine. Indeed, Elaeagnus is an extremely common plant in the area and festoons trees along the Palmerston Highway. It also occurs naturally at aluma and can be grown with ease in Townsville gardens (and further south to Brisbane). The simple, alternate leaves are bright glossy green above, while on the underside, the colour varies between metallic gold or silver and looks absolutely glorious. Flowers are small and white with a four-petalled star shape. The fruit are red with a persistent calyx and may be scattered in fine gold dots. They may occur singly or in bunches (although I have never seen them doing so) and the vine can fruit profusely. The flesh is tart and, although they have a tendency to dry out the mouth, they are quite addictive. The seed is solitary, long and thin and star shaped in cross-section. Next time I see a flower I will dissect it to see if male and female flowers are on different plants. Although one specimen I grew in Townsville for years and flowered continuously, it never set fruit. Other Townsville SGAP members have reported the same phenomena. Perhaps if several were grown close together, they may fruit.
Millaa-Millaa Vine is in its own family: Elaeagnaceae, so is worth growing just for interest sake. While this family is known from fossils dating to 20 million years old, the genus Elaeagnus is fairly new (in terms of geological time), having appeared in the fossil record a mere eight million years ago. Millaa-Millaa can be pruned to form a dense shrub or be allowed to scramble up a sacrificial tree. Try using it to smother Bougainvillea!.
(Reproduced from “The Native Gardener”, Newsletter of the SGAP Townsville Branch, November 1997)
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Editor’s Note: About 3 years ago, I was given a small Millaa Millaa plant sourced from Cooloola City Farm Nurseries (linked to Landcare). I planted it next to a boundary fence (semi-shaded) and forgot about it. About a year ago it started to take off and recently it has been covered with delicious translucent reddish/orange little fruit! For a plant which has received no extra water, no fertilising and has flourished on an infertile sand dune, I think it is remarkable. It has become a favourite and I’ll try to propagate more so that it can be shared.