Hands up who can name our national flower?
While most of us could recognise a rose or a tulip, very few of us know more than a handful of our native plants. This is a shame, as there’s well over 19,000 of them, including some of the world’s most fascinating.
Growing some local plants in your garden can help support native wildlife, providing food and a safe place to rear their young. As well as being perfect partners for birds and insects, they’re also perfectly suited to our soil, climate and conditions, so often grow better. And, needless to say, most of them are beautiful.
Before planting natives, check your location
If you’d like to plant natives, the first thing to recognise is your location. Within each area of the country you’ll find plants specifically adapted to windy escarpments, protected gullies, desert or rainforest.
This means a successful native garden is one where you’ve looked at your conditions and found plants to suit, not vice versa.
And forget the myth that native plants are “set and forget” — a light prune after flowering is good to keep them in shape, and you’ll want to water them to survive dry periods, especially when they’re young.
Also consider that just because a plant is “Australian”, it doesn’t mean it can’t become a weed outside its native zone. Some of the world’s worst weeds are Aussie natives — including the paperbark tree (Melaleuca quinquenervia). Even within Australia, many acacias and others have become weeds. If in doubt, a trip to your local council or nursery for a list of suitable types is a great start.
While some are capable of becoming weeds, ironically, many Australian plants are now rare in the wild, so growing them at home helps preserve endangered species.
Here are seven plants that every Australian should get to know, or could plant.
Fun fact: Nearly half of all the plants known to grow in Australia can be found in Queensland!
Let’s start with the big one. There are about 700 types of eucalypts or gum trees (the nickname relates to the sap many exude).
They range from frost-hardy snow gums to the coolabahs of the outback. Some are forest giants — the mountain ash (Eucalyptus regnans) is the world’s tallest flowering plant — but many suit small gardens, and can even be bonsai’d.
Thanks to botanists exploring plant DNA, eucalypts have now been split into three group: eucalyptus, corymbia and angophora.
Corymbias include the brightly coloured red-flowering gum (Coymbia ficifolia), a WA native often seen as a street tree, with bright orange, red or pink flowers in summer, followed by huge nuts. Angophoras include the smooth-barked apple or rose gum (Angophora costata) that is common all along the east coast.
A widely planted gum is silver princess (Eucalyptus caesia), which has white bark, a lovely weeping shape and large red flowers. If you have a specialist nursery near you and want to try something different, ask if they have any dwarf gums, or hunt down the many gorgeous small mallee gums — these have multiple trunks instead of one, rarely grow over 5 metres tall and often have gorgeous flowers that attract wildlife.
Few sights cheers the soul on a cold wintery day than golden yellow acacia blossom. Of the 1,350 species of Acacia found worldwide, nearly 1,000 are Australian.
Acacia is the most widespread plant in Australia, so it’s not surprising the green and gold colours were adopted by our sports teams, and the golden wattle (Acacia pycnantha) was chosen as Australia’s national floral emblem.
Its common name, wattle, came from its use to make homes in the traditional wattle and daub method that early settlers used. We even have a celebratory Wattle Day on September 1.
Acacias have a reputation for being short lived (up to around 30 years), and many are fast-growing “pioneer” plants that offer instant cover in new gardens. Others, such as blackwoods, can live for 200-plus years.
For gardeners, there are dozens of small, attractive acacias that can add colour and interest to a garden:
- Flat wattle (Acacia glaucoptera), a low shrub with fascinating foliage and reddish new growth;
- Gold carpet (Acacia spathulifolia), a glorious groundcover and one of the first to flower;
- The leafless rock wattle (Acacia aphylla) a fascinating, leafless low shrub that is very structural;
- The sandpaper wattle (Acacia denticulosa), a medium shrub with rough, sandpapery leaves and huge rod-shaped flowers.
Trees get all the big love, shrubs form the understorey, but our landscapes would be nothing without our grasses — and you’ll need all these layers to create a bird-friendly garden.
Weeping grass (Ehrharta stipoides) is shaping up as one of the best native grasses for lawns, and common tussock grass (Poa labillardieri) probably holds the record for supporting the most wildlife. But few grasses are as distinctive and ornamental as kangaroo grass (Themeda triandra), which is found across Australia, as well as in Africa and Asia.
It forms large clumps half a metre across and high, and in good conditions the distinctive red-brown seed spikes can reach 1.5 metres tall. After the fresh green new growth in spring, seeds mature in summer, then leaves colour to a glorious reddish-brown in autumn.
Kangaroo grass is an impressive sight when planted in mass, but adds texture to a pot of native plants, can be used as a feature plant in a rockery, or planted semi-formally in rows. Its seed is being researched as an alternative to wheat.
For attracting bees and butterflies, you can’t go past daisies. Insects like a flat surface to land on, and the multiple tiny florets that make up the middle of the daisy are perfect feeding stations.
For spring panache, few sights beat a mass of paper daisies — even a pot-full looks divine. But for long-term colour, add a brachyscome daisy to your patch.
Growing to about 20-30cm high and 30-40cm wide, they form evergreen, neat mounds that bear flowers nearly all year, peaking in spring and autumn. They are small enough to grow in a pot or hanging basket, or can be used for edging.
William Dampier reportedly collected the first brachyscome in 1699 from Shark Bay in WA, and plant growers have been breeding different flower colours ever since. This means you can now take your pick of shades, from pinks to purples to blues and yellows.
They like full sun, a bit of extra water in summer, good drainage, and benefit from a light trim after peak flowering to keep them neat.
Source, Images & More: https://www.abc.net.au/