Flora | Flora Index

The genus Ptilotus has over 100 species, all but one are native to Australia. Ptilotus conicus is found in Malesia on the islands of Flores and Timor. The species Ptilotus spathulatus is found in Tasmania.

Mainly found in the arid regions, with most of the species found in Western Australia, they are found in a range of habitats including tropical areas. Annuals and herbaceous perennials they have flowers in dense, brightly-coloured conical head form.

Common name
Whilst the term “mulla mulla” is used to describe many of the species, they are sometimes called “pussy tails’ because of the appearance of the flower spikes. Other names include pussy tails and lamb’s tail.

The different Aboriginal tribes have their own names in langugage for the different Ptilotus spp.1

Plants are an integral part of Aboriginal culture. As well as bush tucker and bush medicine, certain desert plants are regarded as sex totems. The pink flowered mulla-mullas (Ptilotus spp.) is representative of the male, whilst several plants with milky sap represent the female.2


  • Scientific classification
  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • Clade: Tracheophytes
  • Clade: Angiosperms
  • Clade: Eudicots
  • Order: Caryophyllales
  • Family: Amaranthaceae
  • Genus: Ptilotus

Footnote & References

  1. Peter Latz, Bushfires and Bushtucker Aboriginal Plant Use in Central Australia, IAD Press, Alice Springs, 2004, Part II: Plant List, p255
  2. Peter Latz, Bushfires and Bushtucker Aboriginal Plant Use in Central Australia, IAD Press, Alice Springs, 2004, Chapter Four: Plant Uses, p71
  3. For Love of the Mulla Mulla – Western Australian wildflower, Life Images by Jill, Monday 24 July 2017 https://lifeimagesbyjill.blogspot.com/2017/07/for-love-of-mulla-mulla-western.html
  4. A touch of light: Ptilotus rising, by Kieran Finnane, 7 July 2020, https://alicespringsnews.com.au/2020/07/07/a-touch-of-light-ptilotus-rising/