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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!!


Moving a Geraldton wax

My son has recently purchased a dry area farm near Leeton New South Wales and has an enormous Geraldton wax bush close to the house. The trunk is extensive and twisted and probably about 50cm in circumference, the whole bush leaning out about three metres. Unfortunately it is too close to the house to leave there.

I have read that disturbing the roots is a risk to the plant, and this one is so old it would be a shame to lose it. Do you have some advice for moving it, replanting/grafting or striking/pruning radically to get it to regrow if planted elsewhere.

I would be pleased to hear from you, and to get some indication of the time of the year when any work could be done to move and save this wonderful bush.

Leeton, NSW

There's good news and bad news here....

The bad news is that I think it will be unlikely that you can move such a mature plant successfully. You probably having nothing to lose by trying but the vital thing is that you need to get a large, undisturbed root ball. For a plant this big this will be very difficult. If you try, prepare the new planting hole first and make sure the plant does not dry out in its new location. You should probably cut it back by about one third to minimise transpiration loss.

The good news is that Geraldton Wax are reasonably easy to propagate by cuttings although ideally I'd prefer to take cuttings when the weather is a bit warmer.

There are general guidelines for propagation by cuttings on our web site.

Good luck with it.


Itchy Kids and Plants

Grevillea 'Superb'  
Grevillea 'Ned Kelly'  
Grevillea 'Suberb' (top)
Grevillea 'Ned Kelly' (bottom)
Click for larger images

We are new to the New South Wales area and my kids are having a ball playing in all the flora and fauna, however, it seems they are highly allergic to something and we think it must be the plants they are hiding in and playing around. They break out in swollen, itchy, bright red welts which seem to spread.

Can you show me some photos of the most common culprits to this rash so we can avoid them and get this under control.

Thanks for your help. We have tried various creams and antibiotics both orally and topically. These combined are giving some relief but if we knew what to avoid that would be even better.


The most common native plants that can cause this problem are some of the hybrid grevilleas. These are commonly grown in gardens and while not everyone is susceptible to them, contact with the foliage can cause the symptoms you describe (I know this from first hand experience!!)

The main ones to look out for are those in the Grevillea 'Robin Gordon' group. This includes the cultivars 'Superb', 'Coconut Ice' and 'Ned Kelly'. However, if the kids are susceptible, it would be worth being wary of all grevilleas.


Mystery Immigrant

Prostanthera lasianthos   

The plant shown in the accompanying photo came over to the UK growing in a tree fern (Dicksonia antartica). It was about 0.3 m high and has now grown to about 1.5 m. It is in full bloom and beautiful, having survived our winter. It's still growing in tree fern.

The leaves when crushed have lovely herby smell.

Do you have any suggestions as to its identity?

United Kingdom

That's really interesting.

It's a mint bush (genus Prostanthera). I'm guessing a bit at the species but it's probably Prostanthera lasianthos. It tends to grow in cooler areas of Australia.

Prostantheras are in the same family as the cullinary mints and other herbs - which accounts for the aroma from the leaves.


Fertiliser and Natives

I am currently developing a native garden in central Gippsland, Victoria.

I am interested if there is a publication listing fertiliser requirements for natives. I know that many species will not tolerate phosphorus but what effect will potassium and sulfur have? Soil tests shows the concentrations of these elements to be low.

Is magnesium required?

Gippsland, Victoria

There is an excellent article on phosphorus tolerance of a range of plants in the December 1997 issue of Australian Plants online.

As far as the effect of other elements is concerned, the best general reference I have come across is Volume 1 of "The Encyclopaedia of Australian Plants" by Rodger Elliot and David Jones (Lothian Publishers).


Orange-flowered Eucalypt

A friend recently saw a orange flowering eucalypt in Townsville, north Queensland. She was told it was an 'Orange Gum', however, the fact sheets does not agree to what she saw (a large growing gum tree).

Would you by any chance know what it may be? I understand that there are many hybrids these days also.

North Queensland

Eucalyptus phoenicea   

Photo: Keith Townsend
Click for a larger image

I can't do much more than take a guess but I'd say it's likely to be Eucalyptus phoenicea (Scarlet Gum or Fiery Gum). Another possibility is Corymbia ptychocarpa (Swamp Bloodwood).

You are correct about the hybrids - there are some using Corymbia ptychocarpa and C.ficifolia. These are usually grafted plants but they probably haven't been available for long enough for any specimens to have developed into a large tree.

Some of these hybrids are mentioned in the article 'Small Gums for Small Gardens' in this issue.


Poisonous Plants

I am in need of knowing if Dianella tasmanica 'Variegata', an Australian native, is poisonous in any way. I am a landscape architect in California USA with a children's center project.

Any response or leads would be greatly appreciated.


I don't have any specific information on that variety but there are references to some other Dianella species having toxic properties.

The following sites might help you decide on whether the plants should be grown in that particular situation.


Banksia spinulosa - Yellow Form

I have recently become aware of the joys of cultivating banksias and was wondering if you can advise of a good book about them. I am particularly interested in the different species available, the ideal growing conditions and in particular the best ones to grow in the Blue Mountains.

I know there are a number of forms of Banksia spinulosa but would like to know which one has the mustard / yellow flowers as opposed to the red.

Your assistance is appreciated.

Blue Mountains, New South Wales

Banksia spinulosa   

Click for a larger image

The best book on banksias is undoubtedly "The Banksia Book" by Alex George. I'm not sure if its still available in major bookshops but Florilegium should have it (florileg@ozemail.com.au). Another good one is "Banksias, Waratahs and Grevilleas" by John Wrigley and Murray Fagg. It's out of print but Florilegium may have it.

Any of the eastern State's species should do well in the Blue Mountains. Of the western ones, B.media, B.blechnifolia and B.praemorsa are probably the easiest but most other western ones will be a challenge.

The flowers of the forms of B.spinulosa are very variable in colour - there are selected colour forms available in native nurseries if you're looking for a particular form. "Lemon Glow" sounds like the yellow one you are after but there may be other similar cultivars.

Check out specialist native nurseries in your area from the list on our web site.


Callistemon Sawflies

I am trying to identify some sawfly larvae and I came across a photo of one in the June 1998 issue of Australian Plants online.

The sawfly larva photographed in that issue is the one I am trying to identify. Can you tell me what species it is please?


I can't be definitive because I'm not sure if there are several similar species that occur in different areas or whether there's only one species involved.

The species is most likely Pterygophorus cinctus but you would probably need to contact an organisation like the Australian Museum to be certain.

That particular photo was taken in my garden in western Sydney but I've never bothered to have the insects formally identified.

This link to Bottlebrush Saw Flies might also help.


Mystery Eucalypt

Eucalyptus newbeyi   

Photo: Ron Powers

Four years ago I collected a pocket full of seeds while killing time in the western part of Melbourne. I planted them out in tubes and ended up with thirty trees. I planted them out in a row and now have trees about five metres tall whick have been threatening to flower for close to a year now. I have shown them to the entire membership of the Bacchus Marsh-Melton branch of the Australian Plants Society of which my wife and I are members, but no one can identify the tree.

I've been back to the area where I thought the seeds came from several times but can't find the trees I got the seeds from so I can't ask the owner.

Any help in identifying the trees would be appreciated.

Melbourne, Victoria

I was originally 99% certain that it's the plant which is well known in cultivation as Eucalyptus lehmannii. The long, finger-like buds (along with the flat, curved stalk) are typical of the this and several closely related species.

However, there are a couple of complications. The commonly cultivated plant is actually Eucalyptus conferruminata - the name E.lehmannii is widely misapplied to this plant. The two species are very similar; E.lehmannii has longer bud caps and is a mallee in its natural habitat.

So, is your plant E.conferruminata? Well, I thought so but Jim Barrow of the Wildflower Society of Western Australia checked out this group of eucalypts using the CD Identification Guide EUCLID. Jim noted:

"The buds in your photo are not in fact fused. This means it is one of the 'other' four from that group - with buds not fused. It seems to match E.newbeyi - named for Ken Newbey who was a farmer and became a very active botanist. The flattened stem, the non-fused bus, the bud cap without warts, all fit the picture. The stem of lemannii is more slender and not nearly as flattened."

The bottom line? We probably can't be 100% certain but I think Jim's identification, Eucalyptus newbeyi, is as close as we are likely to get on the basis of a photo.


Paving Under a Lilly Pilly

We have a very large lilly pilly tree on the banks of the Woronora River south of Sydney. We would like to pave under this tree but do not want to damage the tree at all.

Do you think this tree would be okay? And how does its root system work?

Sydney, New South Wales

It's not possible to give a definate answer as there are a couple of factors that might affect the tree.

Lily pillies are rainforest plants and they perform best when they have a reasonable amount of water. They are adaptable and will grow in dry conditions but rarely look their best. If you are contemplating an impervious paving, this could restrict the amount of water that will reach the roots and the tree could suffer but it will most likely survive.

The other factor is how the soil level around the tree is to be affected. If only minimal levelling is involved, this should be OK but if fill is to be applied around the tree this could lead to deteriotration of the plant over the long term.

In summary, if there is minimal levelling and the paving allows water to reach the sub soil, the tree should be OK.

Hope this helps.


What's a "Snow Gum"?

Eucalyptus pauciflora   

Photo: Australian Plants Society (NSW)
Click for a larger image

Could you please tell me what is the correct name of the eucalypt known as "snow gum" which is native to the higer altitudes of Australia?


The one in alpine areas of South-eastern Australia is Eucalyptus pauciflora subspecies niphophila. It's sometimes given full species ststus in some references as E.niphophila.


Database for Native Plants

I have recently become a member of the Australian Plants Society with the aim of learning more about Australian native plants.

I had a look at a number of native plant gardens and I am becoming aware that some look "scrappy" and are a collection plants rather than a designed garden approach. I would like to create a beautiful colour full garden with smaller plants and try to have flowers and colour most of the year, rather than a flush in spring and a dull garden in summer.

Rather than trying to re-invent the wheel. I wonder if there is a data base that one can adapt in order to set up a plant data base for my new garden so that I can in advance select plants on size, when it flowers, soil condition, shade, full sun etc.

Could you help or refer me to others who may be able to help me?


The problem with databases of this type is that they need to be developed for specific areas because plants perform differently in different districts and flowering periods may also be different. Some local groups of the Society have produced publications containing the sort of infomation you are looking for but the only computer-based one that I'm aware of is the one being developed in South Australia. The program is called "APS Query" and it allows selection of plants meeting a whole range of criteria.

It will probably help in selecting plants for your garden and you can download a free copy.


Callistemon viminalis - Dangerous Roots?

Callistemon viminalis   

Click for a larger image

I purchased a small Callistemon viminalis and would like to plant it near my house (within 0.4 metres) or a similar distance from my bulkhead (on a canal in Florida).

Do you thing this would be a problem, if kept pruned? I am mostly worried about the root system, I would not like it to invaded the foundation of my home, or the bulkhead.

I would appreciate your advice as I have not been able to find answer on internet.

Florida, USA

It's difficult to advise as plants can often be more vigorous outside of their natural environment.

All I can say is that, in Australia, the situation you describe wouldn't cause any concern. Here C.viminalis is a small tree which doesn't have a particularly vigorous root system. I would be very surprised if it caused any problems to foundations in the Australian context.


Moving a Tree Fern

I have a clump of five Cyathea australis tree ferns ranging up to 1.8 metres which I would like to move. Can you advise me as to when and how and if to move these ferns?

I would be very grateful for any advice.


They can be moved but they are not as easy to move as Dicksonia tree ferns which can be sawn off and the top section replanted without roots.

With Cyathea you need to get as large a root ball as you can easily manage and you need to keep it as undisturbed as possible during the move.

Prepare the new holes before you move them and don't let them dry out, particularly during the first summer. Some of the older fronds will probably wilt but hopefully the new ones will be OK and will grow on when the plants become re-established.

Unfortunately, there are no guarantees regarding success but if you take it slowly and carefully you have a reasonable chance of success.


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Australian Plants online - September 2003
Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants