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Short Cuts

Short items of interest about Australian plants selected from the many newsletters and journals published by member Societies of ASGAP.......

Short Cuts in this issue:

BulletGrowing Orchids in the Garden
Orchids don't need to be confined to containers
BulletBonsai with Australian Native Plants
Recommendations for suitable Australian species
BulletThree Myoporums
Not just the 'poor relations' of the emu bushes
BulletSpring at the Burrendong Arboretum
A guided tour around a wildflower oasis in central west New South Wales
BulletThe Eucalypt Wars - Part IV
The Eucalyptus - Corymbia - Angophora controversy continues....
BulletOur Native Cherry
Exocarpos cupressiformis, a beautiful native parasite

Growing Orchids in the Garden

Now's the time to start planning for that native orchid garden you always wanted. Start preparing your locations and thinking about your preferred species. John Moye has some suggestions to get you started....

There are lots of orchid shows conducted in many areas. While many exhibitors favour exotic species, there is an increasing presence of native orchids in many of them. Indeed, the local branch of the Australian Native Orchid Society conducts an orchid show exclusively for native species in early spring each year.

Most exhibitors grow their orchids in containers, but many species are equally at home grown as garden plants and can be used to complement other plants or as garden specimens in their own right. Several methods can be used to grow native orchids in a garden setting, and in some instances, plants so grown, out-perform those grown in pots in bush-house conditions.

Where to plant an orchid in a garden depends on the type of plant available. Most Dendrobium kingianum, or D.speciosum-type plants, and hybrids derived from them, grow well in an open environment. Select an area which receives some sunlight for part of the day at least, and preferably one that receives a maximum of sunlight in the late summer-autumn period. Try to avoid areas of strong afternoon sunlight. The dappled light under an open crowned tree is ideal.

Dendrobium kingianum grows almost exclusively on rocks and D.speciosum is sometimes referred to as the Sydney Rock orchid, so a rocky area should be created if these plants are to be grown in a garden. I have done this by removing some soil from the selected area and infilling this with blue-metal or crushed rock. Larger rocks are then place randomly on this base with spaces infilled with smaller rocks and blue-metal. This process can be repeated until a desired height and shape is acquired aid maximum drainage assured.

Both species named above and hybrids derived from them are suitable for garden cultivation.

Dendrobium 'Bardo Rose' Dendrobium speciosum
Dendrobium 'Bardo Rose' (left)
Dendrobium speciosum (right)

Click for a larger image

D.kingianum plants come in a variety of pinks, while D.speciosum plants are generally creamish-white to golden yellow. The natural hybrid of these species, D. x delicatum, is a robust plant with whitish flowers. D.x gracillimum (D.speciosum x D.gracilicaule) has yellow flowers, and D.x suffusum (D.gracilicaule x D.kingianum) flowers vary from lime green though to whitish and generally have a distinctly spotted labellum and a 'washy' pink on the outside of the sepals.

Any combination of these plants will put on a stunning garden display in the spring which will last for 3-4 weeks. The plants known as D.speciosum and its several varieties, are equally at home grown as epiphytes. Grow them on a rainforest-type tree, that is one which does not shed its bark.

Again, avoid areas of high light intensity or strong winds if possible. Simply tie the plant in a suitable position using fishing line or twine. In time new roots will attach the plant to the tree and this material can be removed. A small quantity of sphagnum moss tied in with the roots is beneficial, but avoid covering any part of the plant with other material to minimise insect damage.

All native epiphytic and Iithophytic orchids are protected plant species. If purchasing these plants ensure that the mandatory 'Protected Plant' label is attached. A label is not required for such man-made hybrids, as Dendrobium 'Bardo Rose'.

From the newsletter of the Far North Coast Group of the Australian Plants Society (NSW), June/July 2001. John Moye's recent book, "The Blooming Orchid", is available from the Far North Coast Group. It provides month-by-month descriptions of some flowering orchids In far North Eastern New South Wales.

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Bonsai with Australian Native Plants

Bonsai is an immensely popular form of horticulture but it's only relatively recently that Australian plants have been used. Maree Burgoyne suggests a number of candidate species that are worth trying...

Bonsai is over 800 years old. It is a highly skilled, horticultural technique of designing and caring for plants in small containers.

In Australia, the first talk of using native plants as bonsai, was in 1959 when a famous Japanese bonsai personality addressing a seminar in Sydney was asked what his choice of Australian trees would be. He replied without hesitation, "Casuarina". In fact, at that time, the Japanese in Hawaii were already creating beautiful bonsai with Casuarina.

In 1969 Leonard Webber, the author of From Rain forest to Bonsai (first published in 1991), staged the first Saikei bonsai using Australian trees. This is a 'romantic' look where tiny created landscapes are made using dwarf forms of Australian plants. I recommend this inspirational book but of course, today there are many others to choose from.

All Australian plants that have a suitable leaf size and form can be bonsaied. Some in fact, perform better than overseas plants. Many species with a lignotuber and/or trunk swelling make beautiful natural bonsais. Oh, and don't forget our gorgeous tiny ground covers and mosses to make them really special!

Melaleuca as bonsai Callistemon as bonsai
Melaleuca (top) and Callistemon (bottom) species as bonsai
Photos: April Daly

Suggestions of Australian plants with special features suitable for the art of bonsai are given below. The most suitable are Dwarf species with small leaves and responsive to pruning.

Acacia howittii (prostrate form)Acacia 'Green Mist'
Araucaria bidwillii (Bunya pine)Melaleuca bracteata
Melaleuca thymifolia (dwarf)Melaleuca huegelii
Melaleuca decussata (dwarf)Melaleuca incana (dwarf)
Melaleuca incana 'Velvet Cushion'Melaleuca styphelioides
Babingtonia bidwillii (dwarf) *Babingtonia 'La Petite'
Baeckea linifoliaMelaleuca styphelioides
Banksia marginata (dwarf)Banksia spinulosa (dwarf)
Banksia serrata (dwarf)Banksia oblongifolia
Banksia ericifolia (dwarf)Callistemon salignus
Callistemon subulatusCallistemon 'Captain Cook'
Allocasuarina distylaCasuarina cunninghamiana
Casuarina glaucaEleocarpus reticulatus
Eucalyptus nicholii (small-leaf form)Ficus spp.
Hakea spp. (fine and small-leaf forms)Jacksonia scoparia
Kunzea ambigua (prostrate form)Kunzea capitata
Casuarina glaucaElaeocarpus reticulatus
Leptospermum polygalifolium 'Pacific Beauty'Austromyrtus inophloia
Syzygium leuhmanii (weeping form)Syzygium leuhmanii 'Royal Flame'
Syzygium australe 'Little Aussie Compact'Syzygium 'Tiny Trev'
Pimelea spp.Pittosporum rhombifolium
Pultenaea villosaRulingia hermanniifolia
Tristania neriifoliaTrochacarpa laurina

From the newsletter of the Newcastle Group of the Australian Plants Society (NSW), December 2000.

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Three Myoporums

Warren and Gloria Sheather grow a wide range of plants on their property in the New England region of New South Wales including many, such as Myoporum species, which are often overlooked. Warren and Gloria explain...

For many years we have extolled the virtues of Myoporum parvifolium. The species is hard to beat as living mulch and we use it extensively to reduce evaporation and suppress weeds. It is not the only Myoporum we cultivate. Three other species survive and thrive in the gardens at Yallaroo and provide boundless horticultural pleasure.

M.insulare is known as the Boobialla and develops into a medium shrub with glossy foliage, white flowers and globular purple fruits. The foliage is the eye-catching feature of the Boobialla. Many visitors remark on the shiny leaves which contrast with the other plants in the garden. Propagation is easy from cuttings and they usually strike in a fortnight or so. Judicious pruning keeps the plants in good shape.

Myoporum floribundum   
Myoporum floribundum
Click for a larger image

M.viscosum, the sticky boobialla, comes from Victoria and South Australia. Our plants are maintained at a height of two metres by pruning. M.viscosum has sticky toothed leaves and masses of white flowers in spring with sporadic flowering at other times. Cutting propagation is rather slow in comparison with other myoporums.

M.floribundum is one of our favourite plants. Our specimens reach a height of two to three metres. This Myoporum is one of the few natives that resent pruning. We leave them alone and allow the plants to do their own thing. In spring and summer the branches become covered with masses of white flowers. The long narrow leaves hang from the branches and give the planted a wilted appearance. This is misleading, as M.floribundum has proved to be drought resistant and frost tolerant. Cutting propagation is easy at any time of the year. The species occurs in southeast New South Wales and eastern Victoria and is classified as a rare plant. A mauve flowered form has been introduced into cultivation.

From "Native Plants for New South Wales", newsletter of the Australian Plants Society (NSW), January 2001. Visit Warren and Gloria's website to find details of lots of the other plants they grow.

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Spring at the Burrendong Arboretum

Burrendong Arboretum, in the central west of New South Wales (near Wellington) comes alive in spring with a profusion of colour and wildlife. Marion Jarratt gives you a guided tour...

Spring at Burrendong Arboretum is a magical time and especially if you love our native plants. Come with me on a September tour and together we shall explore what is on offer.

Chamelaucium ciliatum   
Lechenaultia biloba   
Chamelaucium ciliatum (top)
Lechenaultia biloba (bottom)
Click for a larger image

Around the nursery the kangaroo paws Anigozanthus viridis and A.manglesii branch luxuriantly and flower abundantly. About them the pale pink blooms of Chamelaucium ciliatum foam on drooping branches while the cerulean blue of the West Australian Lechenaultia biloba echoes the colour of the sky. A prostrate weeping tea tree, Leptospermum polygalifolium, froths over a low rock wall in direct contrast to the structured beauty of the strongly horizontal Melaleuca violacea nearby.

As we walk towards the Information Centre it is difficult to ignore the low, shrubby Melaleuca trichophylla and Grevillea lanigera with their pinky red blooms and beautiful rounded compact shapes - totally untouched by pruning shears'! Below them in sandy beds are several species of the feather flowers - Verticordias - again from the West. These delicate beauties flower red, pink and gold over long periods.

In front of the Information Centre cones of Banksia ericifolia glow orange and gold like Christmas candles. The low growing B.repens. a West Australian species, with its flower spikes emerging at ground level is very different from its showy cousin but no less beautiful. Young specimens of Isopogon dubius are gearing up for their first flowering of bright pink blooms while the leafless [and rare] Acacia aphylla and the unusual zig zag grevillea, G.flexuosa, are also on view and interesting in any season.

Further down the hill the leaves of the Royal hakea, Hakea victoria, sing with colour as they reflect the light while the bottle trees and mallees behind them are a reminder of a harsh, dry continent. To the west of the Information Centre is a small group of bootlace pines, Hakea lorea. The flowers of this beautiful Queensland species crown the drooping foliage reminding us of a bride's veil.

A short drive or pleasant walk to the western beds is amply rewarded. The large shrub, Melaleuca fulgens, blooms vibrant pink on its short flower spikes while in the top bed Ptilotus obovatus from Western Australia shakes its fluffy, pale pink flower heads in the breeze. Enjoy the many grevilleas, which are always a delight to the eye in spring.

Isopogon dubius   
Eucalyptus macrocarpa   
Isopogon dubius (top)
Eucalyptus macrocarpa (bottom)
Click for a larger image

Behind these beds and up the hill the Queensland rusty jacket, Eucalyptus peltata ssp.peltata, droops its branches to touch the ground, its soft, flaky, orange bark asking to be touched. The orb leafed mallee, Eucalyptus orbifolia, is crammed with flowers and dizzy with bees while the scent of honey drenches the air. E.macrocarpa and the rare E.rhodantha, two very beautiful West Australian mallees with huge silver leaves, straggly habits and, in the case of E.macrocarpa, the largest flowers of any eucalypt, will certainly catch your attention. While they may not be in full bloom they seem always to have a few flowers and buds visible. Towards Hams Lookout the bloodwoods may be flowering but even if they are not visit them and admire their tessellated bark - a true mosaic of brown and gold and rust coloured squares.

In Fern Gully the shade and light change constantly so to walk there is like walking under water with ripples eddying and swaying, reflecting and refracting the light from above. The huge blood red flowers and the strong clean lines of stem and foliage of the Gymea lilies are in sharp contrast to the intricate and delicate leaves of the ferns and the rough, dark trunks of the cycads. Meanwhile the elkhorns and staghoms look for all the world like armorial emblems. And don't miss the Yellow Robin who considers Fern Gully his domain and will come and carefully inspect all visitors.

Depending on the season the last of the wattles and the late hakeas may still be flowering. But even if there are no flowers along the Hakea Walk you can still enjoy the wonderful shapes of the woody seeds. See if you can find snails, birds heads, pineapples, cricket balls and little cats. The children will love them.

In the mintbush section the bushes will be budding up for their October show when the whole area will be a sea of lilac, delicate mauve and full tones of purple. This is a very beautiful area at any time - shady and cool and fragrant with the fresh scent of mint. George Althofer's beautiful descriptions, taken from his book Cradle of Incense, of some of the different species lining the walks add another dimension to this lovely spot.

But don't believe me!!! Come and see for yourself. September and October are months that are too good to miss at Burrendong Arboretum.

From "Native Plants for New South Wales", newsletter of the Australian Plants Society (NSW), July 2002.

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The Eucalypt Wars - Part IV

It may not be a "galaxy far far away" but the Eucalypt Wars also pit the forces of good and evil against each other. Working out who is good and who is evil is the challenge! Jim Barrow has the Force with him....

Most of you will be familiar with that pale imitation in which the parts did not appear in sequence. That was mere imagination. In the real world, the parts of Eucalypt wars have indeed appeared in sequence. Part I, was called "The Revolt of the Corymbians". In it, the previously peaceful Corymbians were incited to throw off their subservient status and rise to the status of equality with the Eucalyptus empire. Despite spirited defence of the empire by, for example, Princess Marion, many embassies recognised the breakaways.

   Angophora bakeri
   Angophora bakeri
   Angophora bakeri,
the tree (top) and
the flowers (bottom)
or is it Eucalyptus angustata???
Click for a larger image

Eventually in Part II, "The Empire Strikes Back", Emperor Ian the Wise promulgated an edict that henceforth the empire would enclose not only Corymbia but would also include the outlying galaxy previously known as Angophora. To celebrate their inclusion, he announced new names for several planets.

The Corymbians were incensed. In Part III, "Corymbia for Ever", they taunted the emperor. The emperor was muddle-headed. He didn't understand the purpose of systematics. It was to discover and describe the evolutionary history of a group - not merely to provide a series of names.

Now the latest episode comes to you at your nearest scientific library - part IV "The Judgment of Queen Dorothy" (Australian Systematic Botany 15, 49-62). In it Queen D, and her courtiers from the micro-galaxy called Tasmania and from Flinders U, try to present a balanced case. Trouble is that one reason for assigning names to plants is so we can talk about them. (Some think that is the main reason!) So when you have two alternative names, you have to choose one. They chose Corymbia! They "read" the genetic code in a specific bit of the DNA of 118 plants from Eucalyptus and its near relatives. The idea was that the longer the period since the plants had diverged from a common ancestor, the greater the differences in the code. They found that Angophora and Corymbia really were well separated from the rest of the eucalypts. They reckoned that if you were going to throw a blanket over these three, then you really ought to include three or even four other genera which had just about the same degree of difference. (The other genera are Allosyncarpa, Eucalyptopsis, a genus to be called Stockwellia and perhaps Arillastrum. I presume them to be small, eucalypt-like genera). So in this respect, their judgment supports the Corymbians. But wait! There's more......

The Corymbian empire is not all that secure. Perhaps there is "Corymbia A" and "Corymbia B". "A" comprises the yellow bloodwoods, the paper fruited bloodwoods, and the spotted gums; "B" comprises the red bloodwoods and the brown bloodwoods. And perhaps "A" is closer to Angophora than to "B". Shall we see a take-over of "A" by Angophora? We await the next thrilling episode.

If you are interested in the detailed classification within the eucalypts, this latest paper has much more to offer because it also throws light on the status of several of the sub-genera within Eucalyptus - not, I hasten to add, with the aim of promoting any of them.

Where does all this leave us? Well we can still make our own choice. If we are not convinced, we can still call Marri Eucalyptus calophylla - though, to be pedantic we should add the authority (R. Br. Ex Lindley). If we do this, then we have unambiguously specified the plant. Or we could write Corymbia calophylla and we should then add ((Lindl.) K. D. Hill & L.A.S. Johnson). Again it is unambiguous.

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Our Native Cherry

Although difficult to propagate, the Native Cherry is a much admired small tree or large shrub with may horticultural and other uses as Phil Watson explains.

Native Cherry, Exocarpos cupressiformis, or 'Cherry Ballart' is an attractive small tree with fine, pendulous branches, insignificant leaves and tiny white flowers. It is semi parasitic on the roots of nearby plants, but as it matures, relies more on photosynthesis to provide food. Larger specimens are frequently seen as sub-canopy trees in drier, rocky sites of eucalyptus woodlands. Their elegant form and drooping yellow-green foliage, distinguishes them from the surrounding sclerophyllous vegetation. This attribute lead to its earlier use as an attractive native Christmas tree - hopefully a tradition of the past with the easy availability of Radiata Pine saplings.

Strangely, when I see the fleshy, red fruit, it brings back memories of the cashew nut plantation that I visited in Sri Lanka. These somewhat unusual fruits consist of a swollen fleshy red stalk (pedicel) on which the real, nut-like, seed-bearing fruit grows. Exactly the same design as the cashew nut tree, with the nut located on the outside of its fleshy fruit.

Exocarpos cupressiformis   
The strange fruit of Exocarpos cupressiformis
Click for a larger image

So why these weird variations to normal fruits? Basically, it ensures that the seed is dispersed. Fruit eating birds cannot help but ingest the seed prior to devouring the juicy fruit. These seeds, their tough outer shell weakened by digestive juices, are dropped away from the mother plant to germinate surrounded by the nutrients in the bird's dropping.

Hence the Latin name Exocarpos that translated means 'nut or seed on the outside of a fleshy fruit'. Quite different from a peach with its seed within a fleshy fruit pulp.

Early Settlers Use

The Native Cherry excited a lot of interest and comment from English settlers, who liked its taste enough to collect the fruits for added fresh food supplies, but saw it as an example of the upside down strangeness of Australia's plants and animals. The fruit was eaten raw or cooked, but was only picked when deep red and ready to fall. The early farmers were cautious of the plant, as it was known that the foliage was toxic to stock.

Aboriginal Use

Aboriginal people enjoyed the juicy, sweet fruit as a late springtime treat, rather than as a staple food. As the trees grow sparsely and the ripe fruits are small in number on the trees during the fruiting season, collection of large amounts was relatively difficult.

As a medicinal plant it had a number of reported uses.

  • The sap was used as a snake bite treatment, while the twigs provided a bitter tonic and astringent. The astringent was valuable for stopping infection on sores and cuts.
  • Leaves were used to create a smoke for repelling insects during the warmer months.

The use, by northeastern Australian Aborigines, of the closely related species Exocarpos latifolius (broad-leaved native cherry) is of interest. This plant has yellow fruit, which was again eaten when very ripe. However, its bark was soaked to provide a tonic for the sterilization of tribal women, no longer allowed to give birth due to tribal traditions.

Horticultural Use

Because of difficulty in propagating from seed or cuttings, its wonderful horticultural potential has yet to be achieved. Most nurseries can successfully produce young seedlings and rooted cuttings, but many will die very early in their growing stages. This is a result of the plants parasitic nature, which means they are reliant on fungal associations to enable them to grow through the seedling stage to healthy adults.

Skillful nursery people supply this fungal association, found in association with decaying native vegetation, in their potting mixtures used to grow on the developing seedlings.

The effort of sourcing a healthy seedling will be repaid by the pride of having an elegant, somewhat rare feature plant, prominently located in your native garden.

From "Eucryphia", the newsletter of the Australian Plants Society (Tasmania), December 2001.

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Australian Plants online - September 2002
Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants