The name of genus Xanthorrhoea comes from the Greek Xanthos for yellow and rheo meaning flow, referring to a yellow resin exuded from the trunk of some species of Xanthorrhoea.
The Xanthorrhoea genus is part of the Xanthorrhoeaceae family, which is made up of small trees or perennials with woody stems. The leaves are tough and linear, and the flowers are radially symmetrical, bisexual, and spike-like.
Commonly called Grass Trees, Xanthorrhoea plants are also known as Balga Grass to the Australian aborigines, which is their word for black boy. The Aborigines probably called these plants balga because after a wild fire, the bottom leaves burn away revealing a singed black trunk with long green reed-like leaves extending from the top of the trunk giving the appearance of black figures. All species of Xanthorrhoea are very slow growing, but they are also very long lived - up to 600 years! Long straight spears of white blossoms extend from the top of the tree especially in the year following wild fires.
The glassy resin which exudes from the trunks was previously used in varnish and other products. The flakes of resin were collected from around the base of the stem, heated and rolled into balls.The flowering spikes of the grass tree were soaked in water to make a sweet drink, fresh or slightly fermented. The soft bases of the young leaves were eaten. Tough leaves were used as knives. Europeans harvested the gum to make varnishes and lacquers.
Generally frost tolerant, all Xanthorrhoea require well-drained soil and a sunny location because they are prone to root rot. They can be grown very successfully in pots.