A Small Blue Goddess

A Small Blue Goddess

In the Frameyard now we see a beautiful tiny flower, with an equally beautiful name. Diana, Greek goddess of the hunt + ella meaning small + native to Tasmania, gives us Dianella tasmanica or Blue Flax Lily.

This plant brings us back to Joseph Dalton Hooker who featured in our rhododendron post. He first describes Dianella Tasmania in Flora Tasmaniae , an account of his botanical travels to Tasmania.  The 930-page book was published between 1855 and 1860. Hooker dedicated it to the local naturalists Ronald Campbell Gunn and William Archer.  Gunn was South-African born but in 1830 he became the governor of a convict camp in what was then called “Van Diemen’s Land”. He was a public servant and politician but was also a keen botanist and scientist. He didn’t publish much but his knowledge of the local flora and fauna was important to plant-hunters such as Hooker. In his introduction to Flora Tasmaniae, Hooker wrote ‘There are few Tasmanian plants that Mr Gunn has not seen alive, noted their habits in a living state and collected large suites of specimens with singular tact and judgement.” 


Ronald Gunn and a Dianella tasmanica specimen he sent to Kew Gardens 

Dianella tasmanica is a sub-species (Xanthorrhoea) of the Asphodelaceae family  which is native to Australia. As of September 2014, the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families recognises 41 species of Dianella, including Dianella negra, native to New Zealand, with a Maori name of Turutu and a common name of New Zealand Blueberry. Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’ is also a popular variety with its brightly edged leaves.

Dianella tasmanica is an evergreen perennial plant that grows to around 1.5m tall. The leaves are often described as “strappy” or “sword-like”,  indented along the middle with a toothed edge. It can be grown from seed but also by dividing the rhizomes which spread underground.

Once established, it doesn’t require a lot of care. It’s a fairly hardy plant in this part of the world but does best in a warm, sheltered position. It likes a rich, humus soil. 

It is essentially a foliage plant but it produces small blue flowers in spring (see main image) and striking, violet berries in the autumn.

Dianella Tasmanica 3

Dianella tasmanica berries at Fota Frameyard

It’s reported that the indigenous population (who used the indigenous name of Murmbal for the plant), have used the fruit to dye Lomandra leaves (reeds) when making baskets or chewed the fleshy roots to treat colds. The dried leaves were also used in place of string for tying. The bright berries are often attractive to children visiting us but in the Frameyard we strongly advise people that they are not edible.