Alice Springs Flora •

Alice Springs FloraAnnual Yellowtop Fork-leaf Corkwood Ghost Gum Native Bluebell Rat’s Tail Striped Mintbush Sturt’s Desert Pea Weeping Bottlebrush

The Rat’s Tail (Dysphania kalpari) is a prostrate decumbent annual (decumbent describes a plant lying along the ground with the extremity curving upwards). From the base of the plant arises several erect slender stems (up to 15 cm long), that are a bright green and deeply lobed. These distinctive inflorescence ‘rat tail’ spikes are the female and bisexual flowers. Germinating after winter rains, they flower from May to September.

Rat's Tail (Dysphania kalpari), Alice Springs NT
Rat’s Tail (Dysphania kalpari), Alice Springs NT

A sticky aromatic plant, the leaves are elliptic, deeply undulate / lobed. The plant is strongly scented, a citrus like perfume to some, smelly to others. The seeds that form on the long spikes are small, black and shiny.

The seeds are used as a food source and herbal medicine by local Aboriginal people. Due to the sticky nature of the plant, the seeds remain on the spikes as they mature, until the plant itself dries out. This means that the seeds are harvested much later in the season when the seeds of most other plants are no longer available.

Found growing across Western Australia, Northern Territory, South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland. They usually grow on loam flats and red sand plains and are associated with Mulga (Acacia aneura) country.

Rat's Tail (Dysphania kalpari), Alice Springs NT
Rat’s Tail (Dysphania kalpari), Alice Springs NT

Common name
Rat’s Tail, Rat-tail, Goosefoot, Green Crumbleweed. In the Utopian Homelands of Central Australia it is known as Alpar.

Aboriginal Culture and Dreaming
This plant features in the works by Aboriginal artists of Central Australia — Alpar Seed Dreaming. Alpar is the Anmatyerre word for the plant.

Growing in abundance in the Utopia Region, north east of Alice Springs, the seeds of the Alpar are an important food being high in protein and low in fibre, and are one of the many bush seeds used to make damper.

With a strong, aromatic taste and smell, the plant is also used for bush medicine, both the leaves and seeds have medicinal properties. The plant is boiled and the liquid used as an antiseptic wash, the leaves and seeds are also soaked in water and used as a wash, or mixed with animal fat to be applied as an ointment.

Rat's Tail (Dysphania kalpari), Alice Springs NT
Rat’s Tail (Dysphania kalpari), Alice Springs NT

  • Scientific Classification
  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • Phylum: Charophyta
  • Class: Equisetopsida
  • Subclass: Magnoliidae
  • Superorder: Caryophyllanae
  • Order: Caryophyllales
  • Family: Chenopodiaceae
  • Genus: Dysphania
  • Species: Dysphania kalpari

Footnote & References

  1. Dysphania kalpari, Rat’s Tail, Atlas of Living Australia, https://bie.ala.org.au/species/https://id.biodiversity.org.au/node/apni/2892047

Alice Springs FloraAnnual Yellowtop Fork-leaf Corkwood Ghost Gum Native Bluebell Rat’s Tail Striped Mintbush Sturt’s Desert Pea Weeping Bottlebrush