Quantifying the Mulligan River Pituri Trade of Central Australia


  • Jenny Lesley Silcock University of Queensland
  • Max Tischler Bush Heritage Australia
  • Mike Smith National Museum of Australia


pituri, Duboisia, narcotic, Simpson Desert, Mulligan River, trade


Pituri (Duboisia hopwoodii (F. Muell.) F. Muell.) (Solanaceae) is a narcotic shrub which grows in the parallel dune fields of the Simpson Desert of far south-western Queensland, Australia. The ethnographic literature points to an impressive scale of trade of pituri between Aboriginal groups across inland eastern Australia, and suggests total annual production of 2500-3000 kg of dried plant material. However, there has been no attempt to assess the feasibility of these figures, or investigate the number of pituri plants required to sustain such a scale of trade. We mapped the distribution and density of D. hopwoodii along four one km wide transects, totally 130 km in length. Our results suggest that the population of pituri west of the Mulligan River could number around 36,000 mature plants. Ninety randomly selected plants were measured, and the foliage of six of these was harvested and dried. Plants yielded between 0.15 and 6.68 kg of dry matter. Our 90 measured plants would have yielded around 155 kg of dried pituri. Therefore, between 1450 and 1740 plants would be required to sustain the purported level of trade and use. With knowledge of the location of dense pituri groves and highly efficient expeditions, harvesting this number of plants is feasible. However, numerous questions remain surrounding the ecological and ethnographic aspects of the pituri trade. 

Author Biographies

Jenny Lesley Silcock, University of Queensland

PhD student, School of Biological Sciences, University of Queensland

Max Tischler, Bush Heritage Australia

Ecologist, Bush Heritage Australia

Mike Smith, National Museum of Australia

Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Historical Research, National Museum of Australia; Adjunct Professor
Fenner School of Environment & Society
Australian National University




How to Cite

Silcock, J. L., Tischler, M., & Smith, M. (2012). Quantifying the Mulligan River Pituri Trade of Central Australia. Ethnobotany Research and Applications, 10, 037–044. Retrieved from https://ethnobotanyjournal.org/index.php/era/article/view/589




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