A few years ago I discovered a most extraordinary Australian native plant thriving in my Blue Mountains garden. Mind you, I confess that for some time I did my best to eradicate it. My worry was that exotic pine seedlings were invading from the property next door. It was only during an official check for environmental weeds that I discovered the truth ; ‘Oh, you’re really lucky; these native plants are so ancient that dinosaurs grazed on them!’ , the inspector told me. She was appalled when I said I had been ripping them out. Their fossilized remains are among the oldest ever found in this country.
The plants are a type of club moss called Lycopodium. However, my mistake was understandable because they go by the common name of ground pines, or creeping cypress. Mine only grow to about 10 cm in height, and all in a small woodland area.
In the springtime the plants produce decorative spore cases like upright wax candles. If you harvest the cases when they are ‘ripe’ and store them in a container for a few days the spores will be released. You will end up with a quantity of ‘magic’ powder. Now this has many uses. Parisian dressmakers used to rub it on their hands to prevent spoiling expensive material with perspiration. It can also be blended with powdered tannin, talcum powder and essence of violets to create a fragrant face powder. Hmm, I don’t think I’ll bother with that.
MAGIC DUST TRICK
MATERIALS – A dish of water, a twenty cent coin, and some lycopodium powder.
Ensure there is nothing flammable within a 5 metre radius. Submerge the coin in the dish of water. Next, apply a liberal puff of the ‘magic’ powder to the surface of the water. Finally, reach in slowly and retrieve the coin. When you pull your hand out, the money will be wet, but your hand will be completely dry. Incredible!!
HOW DOES IT WORK? – Well, the dried spores of the plant are very high in fat, and fat repels water. When your hand enters the water through the powder it’s as though a waterproof glove forms around it. Isn’t that clever?
Here is another experiment using a bowl of water. Sprinkle the surface with the lycopodium powder, then use powdered charcoal to make a 5 cm straight line . Place a straight stick on the floor directly parallel to the charcoal mark. Leave the bowl undisturbed for a few hours, then check the position of the black mark in relation to the stick. It will have have moved in the direction opposite to that of the movement of the earth on its axis. Well that’s just weird.
And if I had a violin I would try this little experiment. Spread some ‘magic powder’ on a metal disk. Draw a violin bow across the rim of the disk then watch the most amazing patterns form.
Even more spectacular is the way lycopodium powder can be squirted through an open flame to produce a jet of fire.
For this reason it’s popular at fire dance events. Appropriately, it is known as ‘dragon’s breath’.
I haven’t tried to make the powder (yet), but for me the little plant is magic in another way. Throw on a bit of tinsel and hey presto!….a miniature Christmas tree.
In conclusion, the versatile lycopodium has some applications in pharmacy and alternative medicine. It was once used by chemists as a dust to prevent tablets sticking together. In homeopathy it is still used to treat a wide range of ailments, from earache to mumps. Good grief… I’m beginning to think I should cultivate fields of this little plant!
For another story about the beautiful Blue Mountains, click HERE
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