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The following have been selected from the questions received on the ASGAP 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!!


Transplanting a "rough' tree fern


I'm looking at renovating a backyard and there is a 3 metre "rough" tree fern that needs relocating! Do tree ferns transplant well and if so, is there a certain means in order to ensure they survive the move? I would truly appreciate any feedback on this

   Cyathea australis
   Cyathea australis
Soft tree fern

Photo: Fred Johnston
Click for a larger image

A huge thanks for your time!

New South Wales

If you are sure that it is a "rough" tree fern (Dicksonia antarctica), then transplanting is easy - the trunk can be sawn through at a convenient height and the top section transplanted. It will form new roots provided it is kept well watered in its new location.

However, if there is any doubt about the species, this can be a risky method. The soft tree fern (Cyathea australis), for example, will not usually tolerate this treatment and you will need to move it with a large root ball (as large as you can manage).

There are no guarantees in moving any plant but you will have a good chance of success if it's a Dicksonia.


Plants for an office environment

I am currently looking for plants for our reception area of our office and I was wondering if you could please suggest the most appropriate plants for and office environment.


The plants that do best in air conditioned offices are usually those native to rainforest areas - there is little point in trying to give you a detailed species list as I have no knowledge of what plants might be available in your area.

However, the following generally available species should be suitable but you will certainly find many more possibilities if you contact one of the specialist native plant nurseries in your district and discuss with them the suitability of the plants that they have in stock.

  • Ficus species (figs)
  • Diploglottis cunninghamii (native tamarind)
  • Davidsonia pruriens (Davifdson's plum)
  • Macrozamia species (burrawangs)
  • Lomatia fraxinifolia (Black-leavved silky oak)
  • Podocarpus elatus (Plum pine)
  • Schefflera actinophylla (Umbrella tree)
  • Stenocarpus sinuatus (Firewheel tree)
  • Waterhousia floribunda

There is a list of specialist nurseries on our web site.


Callistemons in New Delhi

I've been trying to make sense of the Callistemons that are cultivated in New Delhi.

Conventional wisdom has it that we grow only Callistemon viminalis and C.citrinus, just the 2 species, and at first I was puzzled by how similar the descriptions of the 2 species are - most books say things like "C.viminalis is usually a smaller tree (3-4m) with shorter, arching branches; C.viminalis is leggier and larger (commonly 5-10m), with a distinctly drooping habit". And "C.citrinus has flower spikes that are usually less dense, but slightly longer".

This is hardly good enough work out a key to differentiate them.

Finally, I stumbled upon a description that said that the filaments of C.viminalis are joined at their base into a distinct ring or tube; not so in C.citrinus, in which the filaments are free.

I was very pleased to find this key to the differences, because suddenly it allowed me to perform a simple test to determine the species - provided, of course, the tree was in flower. Imagine my surprise when I found that every single one of the trees whose flowers I looked at turned out to have filaments united in a ring.

I'm a bit puzzled - is this distinction really valid? Does it get terribly muddied when you have hybrids - as we must do? Is it at all likely that ALL the trees in New Delhi are indeed C.viminalis?

I'd be grateful for some sort of light on this puzzling question.

New Delhi, India

C.viminalis and C.citrinus are usually fairly easy to distinguish, generally just by looking at the plant. C.viminalis is a larger plant than C.citrinus and its foliage is narrower and thinner than C.citrinus (which has fairly stiff foliage). C.viminalis often has a weeping habit of growth while C.citrinus is a fairly stiff looking shrub. As you say, the general appearance is not a good way to distinguish between species but, in this case, the difference really is distinctive as no other Callistemon has the general appearance of C.viminalis.

Regarding the characteristics of the stamens ....

A feature of Callistemon is that it has the stamens free and C.citrinus certainly exhibits this feature. On the other hand, C.viminalis is said to have the stamens united into bundles although this occurs close to the floral tube and the stamens may appear to be free to the naked eye. United stamens is the main characteristic that distinguishes Melaleuca from Callistemon and there was some discussion some years ago that C.viminalis should be transferred to Melaleuca. However, this hasn't happened to date.

There are diagrams on our web site which illustrate this staminal arrangement of Callistemon and Melaleuca. The stamens of C.viminalis should be similar to the diagram shown for Melaleuca (although, as I mentioned, the length of the structure linking the bundled stamens to the floral tube will be very short).

I'm not sure whether any of this helps.....!

Eremophila maculata 'red'
Eremophila maculata 'yellow'
Eremophila maculata
is found in a
range of colours
red form (top)
yellow form (bottom)

Click for a larger image

Looking after an Emu Bush

I have been given a plant of Eremophila maculata and don't know how to care for it. Can I put it in a large pot? Does it take well to trimming or best left to grow. I am in California so I am glad that the plant seems to tolerate some aridity.

El Cajon, California

E.maculata (spotted emu bush) is a good plant for dry climates (as are most Eremophila species). It prefers a sunny position and good drainage.

I can't see any reason why you couldn't grow it in a pot provided the mix is well drained and it is not over-watered. It will take light trimming - best in late spring after flowering (don't cut back into old wood).

There is more information on emu bushes, generally, on our web site. and, of course, don't miss Hans Griesser's great article "Growing Eremophilas in the Dandenongs" in this issue of Australian Plants online.


Looking for an Emu Bush

I found your website recently while searching the Web for advice on the native shrub Eremophila and hope you can give me some advice. From a book on native plants I found a picture and description of a very unusual Emu bush which I found particularly attractive, and which I would like to plant in my front garden in Dapto, just outside Wollongong, in New South Wales.

However, I have tried a few nurseries which stock native plants but none have heard of this particular species which is described in the book as being "completely different from any other emu bush". It is called Eremophila cuneifolia.

Perhaps it is simply not available in New South Wales?

Dapto, New South Wales

I doubt that you'll have much luck in locating this species. Emu bushes, generally, are not all that well suited to the humid climate of coastal New South Wales as they occur naturally in the more arid parts of the country. There are some exceptions (eg. E.maculata, above) but unfortunately E.cuneifolia isn't one of them as its habitat is the Gibson Desert in Western Australia. An additional problem with this species is that it has proven very difficult to propagate so it's not readily available even in suitable climates.

Sorry that this isn't really much help - I'm sure you'll be able to find suitable alternatives and your local native plant nurseries should be able to help.


Looking after a Bottlebrush

I have recently been given a mature Callistemon laevis. I was told it would do well in the UK, once it was planted out.

I am not sure of what the plant will require. My soil is clay based, and my garden is sheltered, but the UK weather is not known for the sun.

Can you help me, or do you know who can?

United Kingdom

I'm not sure what species you have as Callistemon laevis is not a valid name as far as I know - it may be an obsolete name or one that has been used in the UK but not in Australia.

However, Callistemon species are generally very hardy and I would expect that any species that has been propagated in the UK should do quite well for you.

Generally callistemons prefer a sunny, moist position but they will also tolerate shade (the flower better in a sunny, open position). Clay soils should not be a problem.

You can find out more info on Callistemon generally on our web site.


Plants for a Cottage Garden

We've just moved in to our brand new home and for the first time in my life, I've got my very own (brand-new) 'canvas' in which to grow a garden.

I'd really like to put a cottage garden in the front but I want to do it with Australian Natives.....Any advice ??


Rhodanthe anthemoides
Xerochrysum cultivars
Daisies for a cottage garden
Rhodanthe anthemoides (top)
Xerochrysum bracteatum cultivars (bottom)

Click for a larger image

You probably can't go wrong with a selection of native daisies. You can get packets of seed of hybrid paper daisies and sow them in the same way as you would any exotic annuals. You can also buy some small Brachyscome cultivars which should provide the sort of style you are after.

Other possibilities....

  • Flannel flowers (Actinatus helianthi) - can be a bit unreliable in the garden
  • Kangaroo paws - some of the smaller varieties
  • Clumping plants like Dianella or Stypandra (blue flowers), Diplarrena (white, lily-like), Patersonia (native iris)
  • Hibbertia species like H.pedunculata or H.empetrifolia (yellow "buttercup" flowers)
  • Goodenia species (yellow flowers)
  • Isotoma axillaris (blue flowers)
  • Pelagonium australe
  • Hibiscus trionum

I'm not sure what your locality is so it's possible that not all of those mentioned will be suitable - I'd suggest a visit to a local, specialist native plant nursery. See the list on our web site.


Problems with Melaleuca

I manage a nursery in England where we have two Melaleucas - M.acuminata and M.ericifolia planted in April last year.

Both plants have failed to thrive, losing many leaves, turning brown over large sections and generally dieing-back.

I have wondered if phosphate toxicity may be our problem, but iron and trace element dressings don't seem to have done much. Likewise our temperatures are not very high (min 13oC in winter, max about 24oC on a good day in summer), but even so we don't seem to get better growth in summer and worse in winter - its just poor all the time!

Being fairly 'fine-leaved', we have been keeping the plants on the dry-side, but I am now wondering if this is correct. Do these melaleucas require high soil water levels?

Any advise would be appreciated as I would prefer not to lose these specimens.

Nursery Manager
Uniked Kingdom

I would be surprised if phosphate toxicity is the problem. Melaleucas, generally, are not as sensitive to fertilizers as some other Australian plants (particularly Proteaceae). There hasn't been a lot of work done on this but you might like to take a look at the article "Phosphorus Needs of Some Australian Plants" which appeared in a previous issue of Australian Plants online. The article specifically lists M.acuminata and M.ericifolia among the least P sensitive species.

Temperature range also seems OK - perhaps they would prefer a warmer summer temperature but the range you mention shouldn't be a problem.

Lack of moisture, on the other hand, could well be causing stress. Melaleucas are often found in swampy and poorly drained sites. M.ericifolia, in particular, is common in low-lying swamps of the east coast of Australia.

M.acuminata could be a bit more problematic. This tends to occur in drier Mediterranean-type climates and it may be that it's simply not suited to the conditions. In any case, I think additional water should be provided.

I hope this helps.


A Compact Lemon-scented Gum?

I hope you can help me with a small inquiry. Recently I found a reference in a magazine to a "dwarf" or "compact" form of Corymbia (Eucalyptus) citriodora (lemon-scented gum.

I find the smooth white bark of the standard variety spectacular but too large to plant near a house, a mini version would be excellent. I have spoken to the major native nurseries around Brisbane regarding the "dwarf" version, only to be told that have not even heard of it let alone stock it.

Could you please confirm if a dwarf version of C.citriodora exists, and if so, from where can it be obtained?


I have to side with the nurseries on this - I have never come across a dwarf version of Corymbia citriodora.

I can't categorically state that no such form exists because there are so many cultivars of Australian plants released that it's impossible to keep track of all of them.

I have to say, however, that I'd be wary of any eucalypt that is claimed to be a "dwarf" form. It's quite possible that someone may come across a low-growing form but the reason for the compact habit may be due to environmental conditions (eg, soil, exposure to wind, etc) rather than being a genetic factor and the plant may not retain the compact habit when planted elsewhere.

There is also another problem with eucalypts. Even if the comapct habit of the plant is a genetic factor, to be sure that plants propagated from it retain the compact habit, they need to be cloned (ie grown from cuttings or grafted, etc). Almost all eucalypts are grown from seed because of difficulties with propagation by other means and with plants grown from seed, there can be no guarantee that a compact habit will be passed on to the seedling.


Help with a Species 'At Risk'

I have a assingment question that I need help with.

I have to find out about a plant called Pultenaea parviflora. It is on the endangered list, I think, and lives in the liverpool area of Sydney.

If you could send me some information that would be much appreciated.


Pultenaea parviflora  
Pultenaea parviflora
Click for a larger image

Pultenaea parviflora is a small shrub in the "Pea flower" family (the family is known botanically as the Fabaceae). It grows to about half a metre in height and has yellow "pea" flowers in spring.

The species is listed as "Vulnerable" under the Commonwealth Government's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

It is also listed as code 2V under the "Rare or Threatened Australian Plants" system. You can find out more about this system on the "Australian Plants at Risk" section of our web site.

Pultenaea parviflora occurs in a number of scattered locations in Western Sydney, mainly around Penrith - Windsor and also in the Kemps Creek area.


How Long to wait for Flowers?

I have a question which I hope you would like to answer for me.

Callistemon phoenecius 'pink' Callistemon citrinus
Callistemon phoeniceus pink (left)
Callistemon citrinus (right)

Click for a larger image

I am growing a callistemon from seed. The plant is now about a year old and 40 cm high. I can't wait untill the red brushes will come! The questions:

  • When can I expect the first brushes?
  • What can I do to improve the flowering?

Since I live in Northern Europe I am wondering: Can I put the plant in my garden (It does freeze here sometimes)?

The Netherlands

Well, you'll have to wait for probably about 3 years. Bottlebrushes normally take several years from seed before flowers start appearing. Unfortunately, I'm not aware of any way to make flowering occur more quickly. You'll have to be patient!!

There are a lot of differet species of bottlebrushes and, without knowing what one you are growing, it's difficult to know whether it will tolerate being outdoors. All I can say is that the bottlebrushes that are generally cultivated will tolerate temperatures down to about - 7 deg. C and they may be able to cope with colder conditions. However, if temperatures in your area get below about -10 deg C, planting it out may be risky.

I hope this helps.


Hiding a Water Tower

I was wondering if you could help me? I'm trying to find out what to grow to hide a massive water tower 50 metres from my house. I have fairly sandy soil and am 500 metres from the beach on the Central Coast (1 hour north of Sydney).

I want a fast-growing dense-foliage tree, evergreen, hopefully a native to attract native birds, that screens the water tower effectively. I'd ideally like 20 metres plus in height and some width of say 5-10 metres. There are no pipes to worry about. The spots are full sun from 9am to 4pm in winter.

I read about blueberry ash (Eleaocarpus reticulatus) in a magazine which indicated its suggested height as 20+ metres but a couple of nurseries instead recommended lily pilly or Waterhousia florabunda. I went to your website and tried to find info about the last two trees but couldn't (either I don't know the correct botanical name or it isn't listed).

Could you help?


With the greatest respect to the magazine and the nurseries, I'm not sure that any of the plants suggested will do the job you want.

Firstly the name "lily pilly" covers several different genera and includes Syzygium, Acmena and Waterhousia. There are several syzygiums described on our web site.

While the Blueberry Ash and the lily pillies may get to 20 metres they won't do it quickly - I'd say you would be looking at 20 years in good conditions to get to that size. The only practical alternative in my opinion is to use 2 - 3 plants one of which should be a quick growing eucalypt and the others could be the lily pillies which will fill in under the canopy of the eucalypt.

There are probably any number of eucalypts that would do the job but a check at local nurseries should enable you to find some suited to local conditions. For the best growth, all the plants should be planted at the same time.


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