― 190 ―

No. 32: Vertilago viminalis,


The Supple Jack

(Natural Order RHAMNACEÆ.)

Botanical description

— Genus, Ventilago, Gaertn.

Calyx. — Five-lobed, spreading.

Petals. — Hood-shaped, or none.

Stamens. — Five, scarcely exceeding the petals when present.

Disc. — Flat or concave, filling the short calyx-tube.

Ovary. — More or less immersed in the disc; 2-celled; style short, with 2 short, erect stigmatic lobes.

Nut. — Globular at the base, produced into an oblong or linear coriaceous wing; 1-celled and l-seeded, indehiscent.

Seed. — Globular; testa membranous; albumen none; cotyledons thick and fleshy.

Climbing shrubs or trees.

Leaves. — Alternate, penninerved.

Flowers. — Small, clustered along the branches of axillary or terminal panicles.

The genus is dispersed over the tropical regions of the Old World. The Australian species is endemic, differing from the others in habit and foliage, as well as in the absence of petals.

Botanical description

— Species, V. viminalis, Hook., in Mitch. Trop. Austr. 369.

A small glabrous tree.

Leaves. — Narrow, lanceolate, 2 to 4, or even 5 inches long, entire, narrowed into a petiole, coriaceous, the pinnate veins very oblique, and sometimes almost parallel with the midrib, without the elegant transverse venation of the rest of the genus.

Panicles. — Not much branched, or almost reduced to simple racemes, shorter than the leaves, solitary or clustered in the axils.

Calyx. — About 1 line long.

Petals. — None.

Disc. — Entirely adnate to the short, broad calyx-tube.

Ovary. — Slightly immersed in the disk.

Fruit. — Glabrous, about 1 inch long, including the wing, the turbinate adnate base of the calyx not attaining above a quarter of the length of the globular nut. (B.Fl. i, 411.)

  ― 191 ―

The original description is as follows:—

V. viminalis (Hook., MS.); foliis anguste elongato-lanceolatis integerrimis nervis costa parallelis, paniculis axillaribus terminalibusque. The other hitherto known species of the genus have broad leaves, more or less denticulate, with patent nerves. The flowers and fruit entirely accord with those of the genus. W.J.H. "Tree 20 ft. high, growing on high sandy ridges."

Botanical name

— Ventilago; Latin ventilo, I blow (or winnow); ago, I drive gently, in allusion to the winged seeds; viminalis, Latin viminalia — all trees and shrubs yielding twigs fit to bind or make wicker-work, e.g., willows.

Vernacular Name

— "Supple Jack," because of the flexibility of its stems and branches (referred to in the specific name viminalis).

I made the following notes while in the Bogan country:—

The Supple Jack takes its name from the circumstance that when young it often forms a thin supple stem, sometimes like a cane, and often this thin stem seeks the protection of an older tree, usually of its own kind, in its young state, often entwining more or less spirally.

This dependent stage is, however, not universal, the tree being often independent from the start.

The lateral branches have a marked tendency to grow inwards towards the larger branch or trunk from which they sprang. One clump may consist of a dozen stems intertwining, more or less, and they probably all have sprung from the same stock, suckering (they are so often cut down for stock) and their supple branches (sub.stems) intertwine with the original.

Supple Jack sometimes sends out lateral branches like vine tendrils which cling to the larger branches for support.

It seems to me that there is only one root for every clump of Supple Jacks, i.e., it suckers freely. This is borne out by the fact that if you plough round a Supple Jack, suckers spring up wherever the root is injured.

Aboriginal Names

— “Cunnyannah,” of the aborigines of north-western New South Wales; "Thandorah," of those of the Cloncurry River, North Queensland. (E. Palmer.)


— Speaking of the dry West, Mr. W. S. Campbellnote says-:

The most valuable of our fodder trees seems to be beyond all question, that known as "Supple Jack" in the western districts, or "Cunnyannah" in the north-west. Illustration No. 6 shows a typical specimen of a tree in its natural condition, and No. 7 shows one which has been lopped for fodder purposes for no less than five years in succession. This frequent lopping seems to have little or no efect on the "Supple Jack," which has wonderful recuperative qualities and adaptability for dry districts.

  ― 192 ―

Mr. R. W. Peacock's opinion of it as a fodder is thus expressed:—

And perhaps I may be deemed bold when I relegate such a widely-acknowledged fodder-plant as the Kurrajong to second place, but such I am forced to do, if any reliance can be placed upon the partiality of stock for them; for, from my own observations, backed by the experiences of others, to the " Supple Jack " (ventilago viminalis) must be ascribed the place of honour.

I have been very much surprised that this valuable tree has not received the honorable mention due to it in this district. Upon plans of the lands on which the edible shrubs are given, no mention is made of it. Its general appearance, with its sparse foliage, is somewhat ragged, and would not catch the eye as would the Kurrajong and some others, it having in its natural state no pretensions to good looks; but after it has been properly lopped, a dense mass of suckers spring out; and I am of opinion that the amount of fodder is as great, or if not greater, than upon a similarly treated Kurrajong.note

Lopping of fodder trees should always be carefully performed. A sharp tomahawk, axe, or saw should be used, and the cut edge should be as clean and free from tears as possible.

Mr. F. B. Guthrienote has subjected the plant to analysis, with respect to its feeding value, with the following result:

Water...  33.16 
Ash ...  6.61 
Fibre ..   14.96 
Ether Extract (Oil, &c.)..  1.21 
Albuminoids ...   11.03 
Carbo-hydrates ..  33.03 
Nutrient Value ...  46 3/4 
Albuminoid ratio ...  1:3 1/4 
Tannin (Oak Bark) ..  2.4 

The leaves of V. maderaspatana are said to be a favourite food of the elephant in Ceylon. (Trimen.)


— This species differs from that of others in the absence of petals.


— The bark of the root of V. maderaspatana yields a valuable orange-red dye. It is also used for tanning, and also in native medicine in India. The bark of the stem is also employed for fibre purposes. It has not been ascertained whether the bark of the root or stem of our Supple Jack contains any useful substance.


— Wood soft and yellow; pithy. The natives use two sticks of the same wood from this tree for making fire with. It is generally used, and, being common, is the most generally used of woods for the purpose. (E. Palmer.)

The tree is so small that its value does not lie in its timber.

V. maderaspatana, Gaertn., is described as

A conspicuous forest climber of India and Ceylon. Wood yellow, porous, soft. Pores large oval, often transversely subdivided. Medullary rays moderately broad, undulating, bent at the pores. [Gamble: Manual of Indian Timbers.]

It will be seen that the two species resemble each other a good deal in regard to their wood.

  ― 193 ―


— Tree 20 to 30 feet high, forming a bushy tree. Its stem is under 1 foot thick.


— The species is confined to the drier parts of South Australia, New South Wales, and Queensland. In South Australia it occurs north of the central district, chiefly comprising the basin of the Upper Finke River and its tributaries. In our own State it occurs in the dry west and north-west districts. Its southern limit is unknown to me. In Queensland it grows "on high sandy ridges" (Sir Thomas Mitchell), and it is found in many interior localities, extending northward as far as the Gulf of Carpentaria.


— From seed, which is abundantly produced.


Plate 34: Supple Jack (Ventilago viminalis, Hook.) Lithograph by M. Flockton

  • A. Flower bud.
  • B. Flower.
    • (a) Sepal.
    • (b) Stamen.
    • (c) Disc.
    • (d) Style with two stigmatic lobes.
  • C.
    • (a) Calyx. (N.B.--Drawn rather too narrow at a.)
    • (b) Ovarium in an early stage. As it ripens the two stigmatic branches or lobes fall away, while the top of ovarium flattens out to form the wing.
  • D. Flower (four sepals or calyx-lobes removed).
    • (a) Sepal.
    • (b) Disc.
    • (c) Stamen.
    • (d) Style,
  • E. Front and back view of anther.
  • F. Fruiting twig.
  • G. Winged fruit.
  • H. Nut.

Footnotes Issue No. 32

Supplementary Material Added at the End of Volume 2

No. 32. Part IX.

Ventilago viminalis, Hook.


(Natural Order RHAMNACEÆ.)

Timber. — See vol. i, p. 192. Timber of this species cut by me at Coolabah was very hard.

Habitat. — See vol. i, p. 193.

I have never found this species so far south as the Lachlan. It seems to extend from Cobar northwards, but may be in the country south-west of Cobar, towards the Darling. — (R. H. Cambage.)

North of this it is represented in the National Herbarium by such localities as Brewarrina (J. L. Boorman); Bourke (E. Betebe); Coolabah (J.H.M.); Plains near Baradine (W. Forsyth).


Ventilago viminalis, Supple Jack: The photograph was taken near the Darling River, by Kerry & Co., Sydney

Supplementary Material Added to Volume 3

No. 32. Part IX. Ventilago viminalis, Hook. THE SUPPLE JACK. (Family RHAMNACEAE.)

Vernacular Name, etc.- See vol. i, p. 191. "Supple Jack"; called also " Vine-tree"; other name variously spelt " Cunnianna" or "Cunnyunny," one of our most valuable fodder trees. All stock are very fond of it. It stands plenty of lopping. When young the stems twist round each other like a vine; hence the name, " Vine-tree." it appears to start as a vine at the base of some other shrub, which it eventually displaces. It then grows into an upright tree 20 or 30 feet high. — (A. W. Mullen, L.S., of Bourke, through the Chairman of the Western Lands Board.)

"Supple Jack or Australian Willow." Good firewood, bullock-yokes, and shafts, but hard to get straight; also good fodder for stock. Resists white ants.- (R. J. Dalton, Wanaaring.)


Photographs of Supple Jack (Ventilago viminalis) from Fort Bourke, near Bourke.- (C. J. McMaster.)

Mr. C. J. McMaster furnishes the following information: —

Plate (1) indicates the habit of growth in an intermediate stage. It will be seen that the plant made use of the tree, immediately behind it, to climb upon, and, having grown sufficiently stable to no longer require its assistance, it took possession of the situation, and probably destroyed its host. The two are so close together that they look like one on the plate, but a careful examination will reveal the difference. Taken near Brewarrina. Plate (2) shows a fine specimen of Supple Jack. Indications of its early habit of growth are distinguishable in the younger stems-on the left-which have not yet outgrown the spiral climbing peculiarity.

Supplementary Material Added To Volume 4

No 32. Part IX. See also vols. ii, P. 200; iii, p. 164.

Ventilago viminalis, Hook. THE SUPPLE JACK. (Family RHAMNACEÆ.)


(a) "Supple Jack," Coolabah. — (R. W. Peacock, photo.)

(b) "Supple Jack," Mungindi District. — (Kerry, photo.)