Learning about plant use creates opportunities to share knowledge, and through the process of lived experience the information about seasons, plant families, habitat is embodied. Doing this over a period of years deepens the layers of that knowledge.
Generally my relationship with a plant starts through either a verbal story, from a public talk, conversation or workshop that I’ve attended, sometimes its from something I’ve read. Then I go and try to identify and find the plant, this also means finding the habitat, asking other friends who have an interest in plants, do they know this plant? where have they seen it?
In the case of some plants, finding their sister plants, the ones that are more visible in the habitat to give a clue about where they might be found. There is a reed that I have been looking for and this has a sister plant with a very distinctive tall dark head of seeds that is easily seen.
Indigenous plant relationships and harvesting knowledge is carried in indicator plants, this plant calendar shows relationships, in this area Kabbi Kabbi (Gubbi Gubbi) an example is when the Silky Oak is flowering then the eels are ready to eat.
I also understand now about how your eye once you begin to embody the knowledge of the plant, can see more clearly and as I walk or drive I begin to ‘see’ the plants I’m looking for.
A seed saver I was talking to about how he finds plants, explained to me that he just ‘sees’ them, and I’ve witnessed indigenous people in the bush driving on tracks, shout “there, there, stop!” there is a person that has a relationship with ‘seeing’ the plant they are wanting to harvest.
There is also a parallel with people who spend time ‘listening’ in the bush, they know animals, birds and insects, they are able to hear the multiple sounds and separate out the layers and interpret them.
The plants become familiar in a way that’s hard to explain, its like when you see a friend in a crowd of people, the face is familiar, and then their family and the ‘family resemblance’ is in your embodied knowledge.
Teaching also pushes me to learn, it’s always the repetition of teaching, and having to answer questions, and see the teaching from the others learning perspectives that widens the body of knowledge. Most of the time I think I learn more than I teach from a group of students, I love seeing the aha moment when they also begin to embody the knowledge, beyond the spoken words.
The interesting thing with this moment is that everyone’s ‘aha’ is generally a connection to a different part of the learning. When I’m teaching weaving, sometimes I say to them, stop talking, just sit beside me, here watch my hands, see/feel the dance of the weaving, the rhythm.
The ways that I am learning about plants include, looking at food sources (bushfood), planting these in my own garden and working with the local school to get a bushfood garden there.
Fibre uses, dyeing potential, this is now expanding to eco dyeing (leaf prints) on paper and fabric, dye and ink, this could be from the leaves, bark and also the roots. The methods are hot extraction, and now I’m playing with fermentation, a slower process that does not require much energy.
And then there’s all the cross overs, the dyeing of plant fibres is something that I am just starting to work more with.