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The following have been selected from the questions received on the SGAP World Wide web site over the past few months. You're welcome to comment on any issue concerning Australian native plants....growing, propagating or appreciating (even loathing!) ... anything.

If necessary, bung a message in a bottle if your net connection goes down!!

....and, if you'd like to contact any of the correspondents and no email address is listed, please feel free to do so through the editor.

More on Native Lawn Grasses

Re: Trevor Smallwood's query about native lawns - I imagine you have had many responses, but in case you haven't, I write!

Microlaena stipoides is a most suitable Australian grass species for lawns - will take mowing, shade, sun, and is drought tolerant, browning off in summer if not watered, but will reshoot from small rhizomes at a hint of rain.

Much has been written about its virtues - Dr. Wal Waley at University of New England has done much research.

Seed is available from many seed companies; We sell 'plugs' in trays from our small Australian Plant Nursery in Mt.Barker, SA. (Mt. Barker Woodlots and Wildflower Nursery) - large quantities grown to order - but we grow with locally provenanced seed, and would recommend Trevor try to obtain local seed or plugs.

Margie Barnett
Ph. (08) 8391 1971

As it happens there haven't been many responses on this topic but that's OK....every little bit helps!

....and Still More!

Apparently Microlaena is a native grass which has recently undergone trials at Burnley, Melbourne. I've not used it, but recently made enquiries at "Bushy Creek Nursery", which is a medium sized municipal native nursery in Nunawading, Melbourne and they indicated that it is available. Therefore I suspect it is becoming more widely used, and more readily available. It is supposed to grow well in shady positions also.

Sarah Johnston
Melbourne, Victoria

This would obviously be a good topic for an article. There is certainly interest in Australian grasses for use as lawns so, if any experts out there would like to give it a go, just let me know!

Help with Correa

Editor's note: This message was referred from the "ozflowers" mailing list

Do you know where I could get some information on Correa? Is it hard to grow from seed?" Where would we be able to obtain seed?

Your help is appreciated.

Prue Dufty

Select the thumbnail image or highlighted name for a higher resolution image (27k).

You will find some info (including photos) on the SGAP web site on the Boronia Family page.

Correa (and most species in the Boronia Family) are not easy to grow from seed and this is why seed is not readily available. I personally don't know of any seed supplier that includes Correa on its list.

If you have access to any Correa plants you will find cuttings much more successful.

Correa is certainly a genus with great horticultural merit. You do need to be a bit selective, however, as some species and cultivars grow well in some areas but not in others. C.reflexa is a case in point - it has a wide natural range so you really need to select local forms.

Species and cultivars that I have found successful in western Sydney include C.alba, C.calycina, C.baeuerlenii, C.lawrenciana, C. "Dusky bells" and C."Ivory Bells".

Propagating Red Cedar

Could you please tell me the best way to propagate Red Cedar trees from seed. Some friends of mine own a property on the Nowendoc River, west of Wingham, NSW and are interested in planting some of these trees.

I'd very grateful for some advice.

Joanne Layzell
Newcastle, Australia

Seed of red cedar (Toona ciliata) doesn't need any special pretreatment before sowing but the seed loses viability quickly and should be stored in a fridge. Basic seed raising methods can be found on our web site.

Red cedar is subject to a borer which damages the new growth of the trees particularly when they are planted in a plantation (rather than individually). It can be a difficult problem to control which is why they are not cultivated to any great extent despite the value of the timber.

Trees for Birds

We have recently moved into a house and we have noticed there is a lot of birdlife around our area except in our backyard. We have a fernery where all the small birds hang around and our extremely tall TV antenna has birds on it just about all the time but they are not nesting in our backyard.

Bird Cartoon

I think this is caused because we don't have may trees in our backyard and I would like to find out what trees would be good around this area.

Some of the birds I have seen are native Pigeons, Kookaburras, willie wagtails and other small birds that closely resemble the thornbill. If you would be so kind to advise on types of trees that would attract native birds for this area I would be so thankful.

Vaughan Sidebottom
Shepperton, Victoria

Jeff Howes kindly put together some valuable guidelines on this......

"In answering your question I will firstly give some broad principles of attracting birds to your garden:

  • Nearly all Australian birds (a major exception is the Noisy Minor) live and hunt in a in a defined range. For example the little birds move from ground level to say no more than 2m off the ground, larger birds may live 1.5m to 4m off the ground and so on. From their nest site they range over an area from 100m for the smaller birds to many kilometres for the larger birds.
  • Some birds feed on insects and caterpillars.
  • Some birds feed on nectar from only certain plants (like the correas) while others will feed on nectar from a wide range of plants.
  • To attract a wide range of birds you need to provide plants from ground level up to tree height, the plants at ground level need to be fairly dense to provide a safe haven away from predators such as cats.
  • As the birds will not be confined only to your back yard, you will ideally need to have your backyard linked with adjacent properties with a similar 'green corridor'.

Hope that does not sound all too hard?

Some other useful ideas:

  • Provide a simple bird bath in a place safe from cats
  • Include native grasses in your plantings
  • Plant understorey plants close together - to make birds feel safe add some thorny species
  • Most birds are attracted to an untidy garden with plenty of logs and dead branches
  • Most birds eat a balanced diet - 90% eat insects, plus nectar, seeds or fruit
  • Birds love lookouts - so plant dead branches to perch on. These also provide great sites from which to catch insects on the wing.

As for what trees and shrubs to plant I would suggest that you talk to the local forestry commission. You could also consider contacting the Australian Plants Society (Victoria) which has members with excellent local knowledge. The Society has a local group in the Shepperton area."

Growing in Northern California

I am researching what area in Australia is similar to my climate in Northern California (Ukiah 123.23 degrees longitude and 39 degrees latitude to be exact) so I can pick the right varieties of Eucalyptus to grow here as ornamentals. I am a tree seed collector of sorts and like to grow trees of all kinds on my property. The farmland and vineyards in the lower elevations have eucalypts, mostly blue gum, many over a hundred years old as windbreaks. The eucalypts along fields get some frost bite but recover every year.

My wife and I live on some acreage that is steep hills 48km inland from the coast at an elevation of 457metres. The habitat we live in is oak woodland with chaparrals brush and grassland. The mountains around us that go to about 670 metres keep the coastal fog out in the summer. Temperatures from June to September are in the high 90soF (32oC) with a few weeks spread out the rest of the summer of 110oF (44oC) days. In the winter it rains 40 inches (114cm) to as much as 70 inches (177cm) with El Nino.

The main problem is how cold we get - in the low 25 degree F (-4oC) range around Christmas - with a freak snow storm at our elevation in rare years (this one) that melts in a day or two. Most of our soil is heavy clay with some broken shale rock in patches.

I was looking in the New South Wales area, inland around 500 metres and thinking the trees that are suited to the tablelands in clay would be the most compatible. I would start my trees in pots and keep them out of the frost for a few years until they were around 6 feet tall, give them water for the first few years as needed in the summer and hopefully with the right varieties they would thrive on their own.

Any help to pick the right area to research would be appreciated.

Dave California, USA

Actually your description of the temperature ranges in your area is not too dissimilar to many of the highly populated areas of southern Australia. For example, temperature ranges from -5oC to 35-40oC are typical for Canberra (Australia's capital). Here in western Sydney we range from -2oC to 35-40oC.

A main factor (possibly the main factor) that determines what will grow successfully is the rainfall (quantity and distribution). For example, here in western Sydney our annual rainfall is similar to that of south Western Australia but our rainfall tends to be heaviest in summer while south Western Australia has most of theirs in winter. As a result we find it very difficult to grow south Western Australian plants successfully - they resent summer rain and humidity.

From what you have said I think that species native to south-eastern Australia should be worth trying in your area. I would certainly expect many species from the eastern tablelands to be successful. Depending on the distribution of rainfall, some of the colourful western Australian species should also be worth a try.

The Canberra Region of our Society has a list of plants suitable for Canberra on their web site. This might be a good starting point for help with selection of species.

Native Ginger

Could you please supply me with information on the ginger plant. I have heard about it but can't find any information on this plant.

Andrew Harding

There are about 6 species of ginger native to Australia. They are in the genus Alpinia, are native to tropical and sub tropical areas and are frost sensitive. None have any value as food plants but they make attractive plants for cultivation with their strap-like leaves and prominent flower spikes. They also make useful container plants.

The best known is Alpinia caerula which is native to northern New South Wales and Queensland. It is an attractive plant with spikes of white flowers. It is sometimes sold in specialist native plant nurseries and is hardy in protected locations at least as far south as Sydney.

Name Changes?

Can you tell me if there has been a name change for the Fabaceae family.

I have seen listings for Acacia spp. under 'Leguminosae' ..... is this a new or old name for the family?

Maria Segula

Well...I'm no botanist but my understanding is that Leguminosae is an old name for all those plants which are legumes (ie have root nodules to "fix" atmospheric nitrogen). This includes the Fabaceae (pea flowers) and the Mimosaceae (acacias and relatives).

The nodules on the roots of a leguminous plant can often be seen by removing a small plant from its container.
Select the thumbnail image or highlighted name for a higher resolution image (58k).

It's a bit confusing because some botanists seem to still recognise the older name and some lump both the acacias and the pea flowers into the Fabaceae. To further confuse the issue, the Fabaceae used to be known as the Papillionaceae.

However, as far as I know, most Australian botanists recognise Fabaceae and Mimosaceae as separate families.

Black Spots!

I have a kangaroo paw that has developed leaf tip necrosis (blackening and death of the tip). The rest of the leaf looks healthy with occasional black streaks. Just below the blackened part of the leaf tip is a crooked region. What could be the cause of this? Could it be the ink disease?

I also need to know where I can obtain literature on the disease that occur on the kangaroo paw.

Your help is greatly appreciated.

Tsitsi Ndowora
Kutsaga Research Station

It could be ink disease but it's difficult to be sure.

It's not unusual for the leaves of kangaroo paws to develop dark marks and these don't seem to cause serious problems, at least with the tall, vigorous-growing species and cultivars.

Ink disease, however, is a serious problem with no easy cure. It usually appears as small black blotches which gradually enlarge and kill the leaf tissue. Eventually the disease spreads to the rhizome and kills the plant. Spraying with fungicides may help if the disease hasn't spread too far.

Ink disease is a devastating disease of some kangaroo paw species and cultivars.
Select the thumbnail image or highlighted name for a higher resolution image (31k).

There is information which may help on kangaroo paws at the web site for the Australian National Botanic Gardens.

Friend or Foe??? Maybe...Maybe Not!

We have for many years thought that the plant referred to locally (SE Queensland) as "Native Tobacco" is actually that...native.

However, we have recently been told that it is not...

We have large tracts of this stuff growing on our 7 acre block of land, and now don't know if it is friend or foe.

Is it "native". If not, is it considered a pest species? Does it cause any harm, or out-compete any true natives?

Or is it all lies, and is it actually a true native species?

Your clarification would be most gratefully received


Jillann Farmer

Well...I'm not sure I can give a definitive clarification.

The problem is that there are many "native tobacco" species (in the genus Nicotinia) which are true natives but there are also some introduced weeds in the same genus (at least 2 that I know of).

I think that there is a good chance that you have native species but the only way to be sure would be to get someone like the local Agriculture Dept to identify it. You would need to get a specimen (preferably in flower) to them.

Kangaroo Apples........

We just bought a plant called Kangaroo Apple (Solanum laciniatum) from a local nursery in the Seattle, Washington area. It already has some forms of fruit green forming now. and Blue blossoms.

Sometimes we have freezing temperatures here and below. Should the plant be brought in doors in our winter and what kind of soil, fertilizer does it need and is it self pollinating.?? Looks real healthy and likes watering.

Is the fruit eatable?

Jim and Jane Birchman
Washington, USA

This sounded like a job for the "bush foods experts"....of which I am not one! So, a posting to the Bush Foods Mailing List brought the following responses.....

From Brian King, Muntari Wild Food Plants Of Australia......

In reply to your Solanum laciniatum info request.

This species is often found in the south east of South Australia where temperatures would rarely if ever get below 1oC. It is found in other areas of Australia and is probably best described as a temperate zone species. The fruit is edible only when fully ripe and orange in colour. Taste is sweet and there are many seeds within the drupe.

I am not sure that the plant would survive temps below freezing although another solanum (Solanum linearfolium) that is found in Canberra (itself a very cold place in winter) is extremely frost tolerant. In the absence of any other replies to you, I would say it is best not to expose the plant to extreme cold until you can at least get some seed from it .They will propagate easily from seed. They are self pollinating.

From Jim, an ethnoecologist......

To answer your question as best as I can I'll give an overview.

Yes the fruit is eaten when the berries turn orange/yellow in colour and they tend to break open when ripe. They have a sickly sweet taste, eat the pulp only as the seeds can make you very sick, but that is my opinion only. The berries come in bunches.

The plant grows to 2.5 metres in height with long weeping habit. It likes sandy coastal dunes as well as rainforest valleys and sometimes it can be found on rocky slopes.

From Jack Day.....

I have a Solanum laciniatum in my front yard here in Macclesfield in South Australia. We have just had the two coldest nights since we moved here three years ago, at minus four degrees Celsius both nights and the plant is showing some signs of frost damage. I would recommend that you keep it in a big pot - say 18 inches, and shelter it during the cold months, if it gets colder than that.

The fruit of the "mookitch" (the aboriginal name for it in the south-East of South Australia, and pronounced M-OO-kitch, the "OO" as in "book", two short syllables said fast) is edible when fully ripe, but contains (unspecified) "certain steroids", according to my information, and is used in Europe(?) for the manufacture of oral contraceptives.........so don't eat too many of them! They are eaten like any ripe fruit.

Enjoy. (just don't overdo it!)

and from Ray Ma......

I am growing kangaroo apples myself and I can say, because it is of the Solanum (tomato) family, it is not likely to tolerate frost at all. If you do want it to keep, it would be advisable to bring it indoors or somewhere away from the frost.

I grow them just like I would tomato and so I would take seeds from the current year's harvest and plant them out in the spring (or in a glasshouse) and collect fruit in the next (and so on).

As for eating them..... it has been recorded that the Australian Aboriginals often ate the fruit. A word of warning though... Solanums contain a toxin (such as that found in green tomatoes) and so it is advisable to only consume ripe fruit (they should be yellow/orange... in any case NOT green).

......and Emu Apples

We have collected a hatful of emu apple (Owenia acidula) seeds. Birds have eaten the flesh. I would like to know how to get the seed out and germinate it. There are some old split fruits beneath the tree but I did not know whether the seed in them would be viable after 12 months of lying at the foot of the tree.

We have plenty of emu apples on the red ridge around the house so soil should not be a problem. I want to remake the landscape after severe drought to the native softwoods instead of the parasitic brigalow trees that died out in the drought.

Also lots of bush oranges regrowing but nearly impossible to collect the fruit as the birds clean it up before it ripens.

David Caswell

Once again I deferred to the experts........in this case Lenore Lindsay, leader of SGAP's Bush Foods Study Group. The following notes are from the Bush Foods Mailing List.....

Emu Apples are notoriously difficult to germinate unless the seed has been through the stomach of a bird eg emu, cassowary, goose. It sounds as though yours might have. I would try planting them as-is with compost/manure (to simulate droppings) - I would also try the ones already split if contents are still present. They are a large single seed, so you don't need to get anything out.

Brigalow is a natural habitat, as well as a specific plant - Acacia harpophylla. The tree is not parasitic, though it will regrow vigorously from the roots if damaged or cut down.

Emu Apples - Owenia acidula - are part of the natural vegetation of Brigalow and Softwood Scrubs. They are edible, fleshy, look great. Taste.....needs some selection, shall we say? Probably varies enormously among individuals.

Bottlebrushes in the UK

I am particularly interested in:

  1. The relative hardiness of various Callistemon species and cultivars
  2. How many species and cultivars are known, and
  3. If there is any group or club purely for Callistemon growers.

I grow six species outdoors in sheltered microclimates:

C.rigidus (I find this the hardiest species in my part of the UK), C.sieberi, C.salignus, C.linearis, C.pallidus, C.subulatus.

I grow 25 other species and cultivars in containers, which are kept frost-free in winter:

C.brachyandrus, 'Burning Bush', C.citrinus 'Firebrand', C.citrinus 'Mauve Mist', C.citrinus 'Perth Pink', C.citrinus 'Splendens', C.citrinus 'White Anzac', C.citrinus 'Yellow Queen', C.flavovirens, C.laevis (I believe not recognised as a species by the RHS?), C.pallidus lilac form, C.phoeniceus, C.pinifolius green form, C.pinifolius red form, C.pityoides, 'Red Clusters', C.rugulosus, C.salignus 'Ruber', C.speciosus, C.teretifolius, C.viminalis, C.viminalis 'Captain Cook', C.viminalis 'Hannah Ray', C.viminalis 'Little John', C.viridiflorus.

Select the thumbnail image or highlighted name for a higher resolution image (29k).

Maybe I could grow some more of these outdoors, but I can't find information on hardiness.

I have just returned from the Chelsea Flower Show, where the callistemons on show were attracting tremendous interest.

Mike Drury
United Kingdom

Going through your questions in order.......

1. A bit difficult to answer. Callistemons are one of the hardier genera of Australian plants but it depends a bit on climate. You would probably be growing them under conditions that we don't have experience of here. This is always going to be a problem - we need more overseas growers to test their plants under extreme conditions and report back!

2. According to Wrigley and Fagg ("Bottlebrushes, Paperbarks and Tea Trees"...1993) there are 34 species but 4 of these occur in New Caledonia and may be removed from the genus. There's no way of knowing the number of cultivars because new ones are being released all of the time. Also, a good many have more than one name! Wrigley and Fagg mention that there are around 300 cultivars but many of these would have dubious horticultural merit.

3. The SGAP has a Melaleuca and Related Genera Study Group but it's restricted to SGAP members.

There is an Australasian Plants Society in the UK...if you don't know of it, I can give details. There is also a recent book on growing Australian plants in Europe. One of the authors is Jeff Irons, the Secretary of the Australasian Plants Society.

A couple of minor points....

  • As far as I know C.laevis is not a valid name.
  • C.speciosus is now C.glaucus

Allocasuarina torulosa

Can anyone confirm that this tree:

  1. has red flowers
  2. is frost tolerant
  3. grows well in moderately dry conditions

I live on the side of a hill at 900 metres above sea level about 30 km south-east of Canberra. We regularly get -5oC during winter and are likely to get -7 or -8oC at least a few times each winter. Our annual rainfall is around 500 mm annually and living on a slope means the level of infiltration is not that high.

Reg King

I can try.......

1. Yes...or at least they are reddish/brown. The only problem is that the species is dioecious which means that male and female flowers are on different plants. It's only the female flowers that are reddish and only female plants produce the seed cones. There's no way to tell a male from a female plant until they flower!

2. According to Wrigley and Fagg's "Australian Native Plants", frost to -7 to -8oC shouldn't be a problem.

3. As long as it doesn't dry out in the first year or so after planting it should easily tolerate extended dry periods. 500 mm per year should be more than adequate once the plant is established.


We're considering buying a 2.5 acre block, of which 0.5 acre is cleared of trees. There are, however, native flowers, grasstrees and grasses which I would like to keep to replant after the devastation of the workers. Is there a right way to go about storing them whilst the work is in progress, eg.potting them or digging temporary new holes and shading them in the bush??


It's certainly possible to transplant native species. In all cases the trick is to dig up as large an undisturbed root ball as possible, so smaller plants are usually the most successfully transplanted.

If you select seedlings say up to about 300mm high you should get a high rate of success - pot them into pots using a good quality potting mix labelled "suitable for natives" (this will be a low phosphorus mix). If you can store them in a plastic igloo that would be best but, if that's not possible, put them in an area protected from winds and direct sun and make sure they don't dry out.

Larger specimens are more difficult as its not easy to get a large root ball that doesn't fall apart. If you can get a few extra pairs of hands (and strong backs!), it's certainly worth doing - the principle is the same as for smaller plants.

Relocating to other protected areas in the bush is something I haven't tried but should work if the plants don't dry out.

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Australian Plants online - September 1999
The Society for Growing Australian Plants