Vanilla Lily

Arthropodium milleflorum

Vanilla Lily is a tuberous plant with small fragrant flowers that have a strong vanilla-like aroma. The tubers have been roasted and eaten by Aboriginal communities for thousands of years. Vanilla Lily grows well in pots or in the garden but becomes dormant during drought. Maturity can take several years, and regrowth can be easily mistaken for a weed, so be careful not to remove it by mistake. The tubers of the Vanilla Lily are mild in flavour, but, after cleaning, slice them into thin slices and fry in an air fryer or with olive oil to make a distictive and delicious snack. Cooked like roasted vegetables they offer a unique and very Australian side dish for Christmas lunch.

The species is endemic along the whole of the east coast from Queensland to South Australia and Tasmania. It is especially common on the Southern Tablelands (including the ACT) and in eastern New South Wales. It grows well in moist, grassy, sheltered slopes, but can also be found in woodland, montane forest, and other grassland environments. It is listed as endangered in South Australia, but not considered at risk elsewhere.

Vanilla Lilly plants flower into six white-lilac petals, with purple anthers and distinctive white or cream hairy filaments) in November and February. The edible flowers are hermaphroditic, developing into fruits between December and March. The fruits are globular capsules, 5 mm in diameter. At the base of the plant are dark green, strappy leaves, which grow to about 60 cm long.

The presence of flowers signalled to Aboriginal hunters the likely presence of game animals, such as bandicoots, which also eat the tubers.

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