[Front Page] [Features] [Departments] [Society Home] [Subscribe]

Australian Plants online

Electronic Mailbox

Message in a bottleSpacer

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!!


Edible lilly pillies??

I have two plants in my backyard that I have been told are lilli pilli. They have small reddish pink berries on them about the size of a small grape.

What I am wondering is, can the fruit be eaten either raw or cooked?

   Syzygium australe

Photo: Eric Anderson
Click for a larger image


If you are sure they are lilly pillies then the fruit is edible although there are a number of different types of lilly pilly and some are a bit bland in taste. The fruit can be eaten raw or made into jams.

If there is any doubt about the identity, then I'd give them a miss. Your description fits that for some lilly pilly species (for example, see the adjacent photo fruits of Syzygium australe which is in the 'lilly pilly group') but lots of other plants have red berries.


Getting plum pine to fruit

I intend planting anything between 5 and 10 plum pines (Podocarpus elatus). I also wish to have some in fruit at some stage and I understand that only the female bears fruit and that i would need a male tree for pollination so the female will fruit....makes sense to me BUT here's the rub: I have contacted a local nusery who says they've been told I don't need a male tree. I've contacted a prominent mail order nursery who specialize in a number of 'bush food' plants and they say that the female 'may' fruit without a male but I would need to plant at least 2 trees???

The problem is that no-one can 'knowingly' supply both male and female trees!

I don't really want to plant a large number of trees and find in 5 years time that they're no good. I am planting a 'bush food' type forest over about an acre of land out here in Dubbo and the podocarp seems like it will do just nicely.

Any suggestions? Aside from pack up and go home!!

It seems that a number of people who perhaps 'should' know what they are talking about actually don't have all the facts in front of them, or the people who wrote the info don't know.

I'm confused.

Dubbo, Australia

Hmmmm - me too.

Podocarpus elatus   

Click for a larger image

Podocarpus is definitely a dioecious genus (separate male and female plants) so presumably male and female trees are needed to produce fruit. But how do you tell one from the other as seedlings? Or do you just have to plant a few and hope that probability produces a mix of male and female plants? Or maybe cuttings would work (do they strike well from cuttings?).

In this case I thought it best to access the collective wisdom of "Gumnuts" subscribers.

The consensus seems to be that male and female trees are definitely needed to get fruit from plum pine. It is possible to get fruit from only female trees, but a male tree would need to exist in the immediate locality. A bit unreliable, perhaps....

As to getting known male and female specimens, the only reliable way is to take cuttings from existing male and female trees. Cuttings can be taken when the new growth has hardened off. Alternatively, grafting known-sex trees onto existing stock (or even multiple-grafting onto a single tree) could be considered.

If you can't get access to cutting material, the only solution is to plant sufficient trees so that the laws of probability virtually ensure at least one female plant - 5 to 10 plants would probably be OK.

Not the best news, I'm afraid.


Getting started

I am interested in converting my current garden into a native garden. I have a number of very well established exotic trees. I do not know a lot about gardening and don't know where to start. Any advice?


Perhaps one way to start would be to take a look at the back issues of this online magazine. There was a series called "Getting Started" in the issues commencing in the June 1998 issue and continuing in subsequest issues.

Apart from that you could do worse than seek out a local branch of the Society by contacting the regional group for your State. There are contact details for the regional groups on their individual websites. Go to the links section of the ASGAP website to find the links to these groups.


Pollination and seed dispersal

I'm doing an assignment on Babintonia virgata and Banksia spinulosa, however, I cannot find any information on pollination or seed dispersal for either of them.

Do you think you could help me out?


I can't provide detailed information - you probably need to contact one of the botanic gardens to get detailed advice.

Babingtonia sp   
The popular cultivar known as Baeckea virgata (dwarf form) is a rounded shrub to about 1 metre in height. It is now regarded as a form of Babingtonia bidwillii.   

Babintonia is usually insect pollinated. The seed is very fine and is usually released when ripe (ie. in the same season). It would probably be spread locally by the breeze. Just as an aside, if you are talking about the Australian native plant previously known as Baeckea virgata, this species is not Babingtonia virgata. Australian plants previous referred to as Baeckea virgata have been subdivided into a number of different Babingtonia species, none of which is Babingtonia virgata. Confused?? Take a look at the article "When is a Baeckea not a Baeckea" in the December 2001 issue of Australian Plants online.

Banksia spinulosa is pollinated by birds, small mammals and insects. Seed is formed within follicles attached to a woody cone and it is retained on the plant for many years. The follicles usually only open and release the seed after being burnt in a bushfire or if the plant dies for some reason. Seed is reasonably large and has a papery wing which allows it it be dispersed on the breeze.


Pruning Melaleuca squarrosa

As a keen grower of Australasian plants in the Northern UK ( yes that's Northern with snow and frost and bugger all sun for 5 months of the year ) I would like to know if it is OK to hard prune my Melaleuca squarrosa as it is getting leggy. The shrub flowers OK but is getting big for it's location.

I also grow M.squamea (spelling ?) with fantastic pink flowers every spring and numerous callistemons - all totally against everything the Royal Horticultural Society have every recommended ( what do they know anyway?).

Thanks for any info in advance.

United Kingdom

You're doing well with these two ('squamea' is correct). Both occur in temperate areas of southern Australia and would be more cold tolerant than some other species . But I suspect they don't experience anything like your conditions in their natural habitat.

Most melaleucas respoond well to hard pruning and I would have no hesitation in hard pruning your plant - I've seen some quickly sprout new growth when pruned to within half a metre of the ground. It's difficult to know whether your climate might have an effect so perhaps something less drastic than that would be advisable.


Questions on lemon scented gum

I am seeking information on the lemon scented gum tree, Corymbia citriodora. It will be most appreciated if you could please assist with the following questions:

  1. Average rate of growth in the backyard(Sydney)?
  2. Average height expected at maturity in the backyard (Sydney)?
  3. Do they have invasive root system, or spreading canopies which may become an issue in an urban setting?
  4. What type of wildlife in Sydney would it draw?

Many thanks.

Sydney, Australia

These questions aren't as easy as they appear and it's difficult to give 'average' growth habits. I'll give you my experience (western Sydney) but I can't guarantee it will be the same elsewhere in Sydney (or even elsewhere in western Sydney).

  1. My tree is about 20 years old and is about 25 metres tall. It doesn't seem to have grown much in the past 5-6 years so I would estimate the growth rate at about 1.5 metres per year initially, slowing down after about 8 years.
  2. Defining 'maturity' is difficult but I don't expect mine to pass 30 metres within the next 10 years. 30 metres seems to be about the size quoted in books.
  3. Any tree of this size must have a strong root system. If there are pipes nearby, they can be damaged and I certainly wouldn't plant one near a house on brick piers. However I wouldn't expect damage to concrete slab type foundations.
  4. Mainly birds - honeyeaters in flowering season, insect eaters.

Hope this helps.


Frost hardy natives

I am looking for a couple of native shrubs/trees to plant in the Blue Mountains so, firstly they need to be frost hardy. The area where I would like to plant has only very light dappled sunshine. I would prefer grevilleas but any other native would do - my main purpose is to attract birds to the large cleared area.

Thank you.

Katoomba, Australia

We get quite a few questions like this but we don't have lists of plants for specific purposes because it's impossible to develop lists for every different climate and it's beyond our resources to know the availability of plants at nurseries throughout the country.

   Banksia spinulosa Banksia spinulosa
   Two forms of Banksia spinulosa
Click for a larger image

We usually recommend a visit to a specialist native plant nursery - they are in the best position to advise on plants for local conditions.

However, in your case I would suggest banksias as being a good choice - particularly Banksia spinulosa which is native to your area. Banksias would be better than grevilleas in my opinion because most grevilleas prefer full sun.

A good local nursery in the Blue Mountains is the Glenbrook Native Plant Reserve on the Highway at Glenbrook. It's run by the Blue Mountains group of the Society and is open on weekends and Wednesdays from 12 noon to 4 pm.


Propagating Burrawang

I live in the Sutherland Shire area of Sydney and I have a large burrawang (Macrozania communis). Every year it has a big seed cone and this year it has 2. I would like to propagate the seeds but am unable to find any information about this which specifically relates to the burrawang - I don't even know which way to put the seed in the ground (pointy end up or down??) If you would be able to point me to some information or a nursery which sells them ( I am also interested in buying more) I would be most grateful.

Sutherland, New South Wales

Propagation of Macrozamia communis is not usually difficult but it can take from 6 to 18 months for germination.

Macrozamia communis   

Click for a larger image

Germination is best if the seeds are fresh and it also helps if the outer orange coat is removed - be careful here as the coat contains toxins and some authorities recommend that gloves be worn.

I just lay the seeds flat in a pot of seed raising mix and cover by about 1 cm of the mix. You can put several seeds in the one pot as the seedlings are easily transplanted to individual pots after germination. You need to remember to keep the mix moist - because of the time taken for germination it can be easy to forget about watering the pots.


A Banksia vase

   Banksia oblongifolia
   Seed cone of Banksia oblongifolia.

A year ago my wife and I took a cruise to Alaska. While in Skagway, I found a beautiful vase made out of a seed pod. Since I collect vases (I have a collection of several hundred), I was intrigued. The store manager could tell me nothing about the vase, except that it was called "Bansia". Well, I purchased the vase, and when I returned home I tried to find out what it was. It looked something like an American pine cone, but not the same. I could find nothing about "bansia" on the internet (no such thing!), so I took it to the botany dept at our local college. The professor didn't know what it was. Then I took it to the museum, and the curator didn't know what it was. So, I was puzzled, but I still thought that it was a beautiful vase, and most unusual.

This evening, by chance, I misspelled the name on the search engine. Can you imagine my surprise when I found that (1) not only is it a plant, but (2) there is an entire society devoted to its study!! The picture of the Banksia oblongifolia is obviously exactly what my vase was made of. They put in on a lathe, smoothed the surface, lacquered it, and turned it into a beautiful vase. Then they sent it to Skagway Alaska, where I found it.

At any rate, I want to thank you for your website. I read your material with great interest. Could you give me some more information about Banksia oblongifolia? I presume it is from Western Australia? Any particular region? Does it have some significance in Australia? I would be most appreciative for your response, and again, I thank you for the website.


There's already a bit of info on Banksia oblongifolia on our website. As you'll see there, B.oblongifolia is not from Western Australia - it is an eastern species.

It's not unusual to find vases made from the seed cones of a variety of Banksia species. In fact I would be a little surprised if your's was made from B.oblongifolia - other species are more commonly used (eg. Banksia grandis) - and it would be difficult to identify the exact species as most species have similar looking seed pods.

Anyway, I'm glad you were able to find useful info on our website.


Pringlea antiscorbutica

Do you know of a source for Pringlea antiscorbutica seeds or plants? Your help is appreciated.


Interesting question. As it happens I'd never heard of Pringlea antiscorbutica before I received you email. However, there's a bit of info on the web so I soon educated myself....

P.antiscorbutica (Kerguelen cabbage) is from Heard Island and ia apparently being investigated as a food plant. The Australian National Botanic Gardens has been doing trials of the species. It apparently has "a light peppery taste, a bit like water cress ...... would both go nicely with some smoked salmon and lemon".

However, I don't know of a source of seed or plants - I've never seen it in cultivation. You could try some of the suppliers listed on out website but I'm not confident that you would have much success.


Kangaroo paw problem

I live in Texas in the USA and I purchased the above plant from a local store. I planted it is regular potting soil and it was doing very well. It was the talk of my garden - a beautiful plant. I read on the Internet that once the plant finishes blooming, you should cut the spike back to the base. I did that but it does not seem to be rebounding that fast. Did I do something wrong? Does it just bloom once?

It is summer here and the temperature is around 85 now. The information on the ticket stapled to the plant is Anigozanthos 'Bush Spirit'.

Thank you in advance for any information.

Texas, USA

You don't seem to be doing anything wrong.

   Anigozanthos 'Bush Pearl'
   Anigozanthos 'Bush Pearl' - one of the 'Bush Gems' cultivars.
Photo: Jeff Howes
Click for a larger image

Some of the smaller kangaroo paw hybrids can be a bit difficult to maintain in the garden, particularly in humid conditions. I don't know a lot about your climate but paws don't mind heat but the smaller ones resent humidity. Their natural habitat is a hot, dry summer climnate and fairly wet winters.

The smaller ones will often die back to the underground rhizome in summer and resprout in late winter. This could happen with your plant. I would tend to not water excessively over summer.

For what it's worth, my experience is that the taller growing hybids are much more reliable than the smaller plants. I don't know what forms are available there but plants like "Bush Sunset", "Bush Dawn", Yellow Gem", Big Red" and "Red Cross" are probably better garden plants.


Eremophila for oil production?

Are any particular species of Eremophila shrubs and/or trees used for oil production?

Alternatively, can you tell me if there are any native Australian arid/semi arid plants used for oil production, or, are you aware of any that would be suitable for oil production?


As far as I know no species of eremophila is used for oil production.

The only commercial application of semi-arid plants for oil production that I'm aware of are some mallee eucalypts. I don't have details of the species involved but there is some information on the website of the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC).


What's this plant?

Leucospermum sp   

While in California, I visited San Francisco's Golden Gate Park Arboretum. I have a photograph of a beautiful flower that I believe is Australian, although it may be from the South African section of the gardens.

Would you be willing to help me identify the plant? I was so busy shooting, that I lost all sense of anything else. This flower was on a huge bush...the size of some small cars. I have never seen it before.

It has red "ribbons" and looks like small hands grasping fluffy stuff.....that is in layman's language.

Pensylvania, USA

I can say definitely that it isn't an Australian native although many people in Australia seem to believe it is given the number of times it appears in so-called "native" flower arrangements. As you suspected, it's South African.

It's a Leucospermum. I can't give you the actual species name, but if you type Leucospermum into the Google images search engine you'll find lots of photos which might help.


Rare Australian seeds

I really enjoy your website - it's a fascinating read. I am particularly interested in threatened Aussie species.

I live in Sydney and am a committed amateur gardener, with a special interest in propagation techniques. How does someone like me obtain seeds of threatened Australian plants, to assist in the effort to keep them around?

I would hate to think that threatened Aussie plants aren't allowed to be propagated!

Anyway, if you have any info on obtaining seeds for some of the plants that you list in your web site, please let me know.


There are indeed restrictions on the cultivation of listed threatened plants under legislation administered by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and similar legislation exists in other States. This is to protect wild populations of plants from unscrupulous collectors who would think nothing of taking every seed they could find.

However, there are still a lot of threatened plants that can be grown but seed is often difficult to obtain for the very reason that the plants are rare.

To get hold of seed of some of these you would need to go through the catalogues of seed suppliers - you'll find a list of suppliers on the web site.


[Front Page] [Features] [Departments] [Society Home] [Subscribe]

Australian Plants online - June 2004
Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants