The Bush Potato along with the Yam plant traditionally was the most important food source for the Utopia community. In fact, it is not only a food source, but an important water source as well because the Bush Potato is sweet in taste and very juicy with a water content of 50%. This high water content enables the people to survive without drinking water for long periods, if large quantities of Bush Potato are consumed.
The plant grows on spinifex sand plains at Utopia and can reach one metre in height with branches that trail along the ground. It has green leaves with pink and red flowers. Like the Yam plant, the Bush Potato is abundant in summer months after rainfall.
The root system of the bush potato can extend up to one metre underground and three metres in width. The roots, commonly known as “tubers” can grow as large as a person’s head. These larger ones are less desirable as they are woody and hard. The smaller tubers are eagerly sought, as they will be sweet and juicy. Unfortunately, these tubers are found deep underground requiring a great deal of digging by the women.
The ability to find the Yam and Bush Potato is a skill that is passed down from mother to daughter. This skill can never be underestimated, as the family relies on the collection of different plants, when meat is hard to come by. Often Aboriginal women will walk long distances looking for signs indicating the presence of the Yam or Potato, and large areas are excavated to unearth this food.
As the Bush Potato is such an important source of food and water, ceremonies are often celebrated to give thanks to the spirit that supplies this food, and to ensure the plant’s continual regrowth.