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

Australian Plants online

Electronic Mailbox

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!!

The good oil.....

Hi, I was hoping that you may be able to advise us about home distillation of eucalyptus. We have a 1920 publication which details it for small commercial purposes. Do you know of any books which may help?

Many thanks.

Suzanne Schwartz,
Lithgow Regional Library,

I called for help from John Wrigley on this one. John replied.....


"Sorry, I have drawn a blank on literature re distillation of eucalypt oil. However, I do know broadly the procedure.

The oil is extracted by steam distillation.The old bush method was to obtain a large metal drum containing water and place a wire rack inside it. The eucalypt leaves were placed on the rack and the drum was set over a fire to boil the water.

The steam was then condensed by passing it through pipes that were set under water to cool the condensate and a collection vessel was placed at the outlet. The eucalyptus oil floated to the top and was then separated out.

When I was at the Botanic Gardens in Canberra, we set up a small still in one of our displays and it does work. The important thing is to use steam and not place the leaves directly in water as this decomposes the oil.

I Hope this may be of some help.

John Wrigley"

Name that Plant!

I have an odd plant growing in my backyard and I'm at a loss trying to identify it, mainly because it has two types of leaves on it. The plant in question stands about 250 mm high. It has about 6 long slender leaves, one that's about 150 mm long.

The odd thing is that one leaf near the base of the stem has another leaf type growing out of the end. It has a "V" shape branch that has 12 small leafs (3 mm) growing on each branch. There are 4 other branches with the smaller leaves growing near the base. Also I noticed that these tiny leaves close up once the sun goes down.

Bill Cecchini,
Mt Colah, New South Wales, Australia

It's difficult without seeing the plant but it sounds like an Acacia (wattle).

Acacia seedling

These typically have the first few sets of leaves made up of "feathery" compound leaves but in most cases these leaves (or, more correctly, "phyllodes" which are flattened leaf stems) change to a simple shape much as you've described. It's not uncommon to find a few intermediate leaves made up of the simple form with the compound form at the ends. The accompanying photo shows an Acacia seedling with both types of foliage.

Select the thumbnail image for a higher resolution image. (19k)

There are a few species which retain the compound leaves throughout their lives (eg Cootamundra wattle, Mudgee wattle).

It would be impossible to narrow your plant down to species level without seeing it and, even then, it might be difficult unless the leaves are distinctive.

A Time to Sow......

I am interested in growing some Western Australian native plants from seed but am having trouble finding info on what time of year to sow each type of seed. I have looked around a lot of web sites and got some books but can't seem to find that information. Was wondering if you knew any potential sources of that info?

Thanks for any help!


This is a good question....but I'm not sure I've got a good answer! I don't think there's been much serious research into this.

It seems to me that, in the wild, seeds will germinate when the environmental conditions are right. This is why there is a massive floral display in arid areas every few years after rainfall.

For what it's worth, my view is that the best time for sowing seed from south Western Australian species is autumn. This is based on my own observations (although these are hardly scientific) and the fact that, in the west, rain is concentrated in winter and summers are very dry. If seeds germinated in spring, I think there would be heavy losses during the following summer months.

That's just a "gut feeling", so perhaps other readers might like to comment.

Aussie Trees for Texas

I am interested in propagating some low-water-using Australian trees for shade to livestock on our family ranch. Could you recommend some large and unique Australian trees that would thrive and grow in a soil that is alkaline, heavy clay, limestone and rocky?

Where I live in west-central Texas is in an 20-to-25-inch (500-650 mm) annual precipitation area; however, it is not uncommon to go through prolonged drought and extreme heat during the summers. The plants would have to be cold tolerant to about 10 degrees F (-12 degrees C) during the winters. If you make some recommendations, I would appreciate it.

Johnny Murchison,
Texas, USA

Cherree Densley, who has kindly offered to assist is responding to readers' questions, has provided the following information (Cherree is the newsletter editor of the Victorian Region of SGAP and a former President of that Region). Please remember, however, that plants which are introduced into an environment where they haven't been grown before can occasionally become pests. It might be worth consulting the local agricultural authority for advice.

"Your conditions are rather more extreme than probably any here in Australia - especially 10 degrees Fahrenheit - for how long does winter last? And does snow lie on the ground for long? Although many Australian plants are frost tolerant - it would be the duration and depth of snow which would be the determining factor. Except for the alpine areas of Australia where the Snow Gum (Eucalyptus pauciflora) cope with being covered in snow, plants like Eucalyptus coccifera (Tasmanian Snow Gum), Eucalyptus rubida (Candle bark), Eucalyptus pulverulenta (Silver-leaved Mountain Gum) all can cope with rocky and very cold conditions. However you also get heat in summer and alkaline soils - what a challenge!

The following is a list of plants I would recommend you try and which have proved to be adaptable, quick growing and create shade and shelter. We tend to grow our plantations in fenced off areas along boundaries, in large fenced circles, oval or other shapes or in L-shaped blocks where fence lines intersect or join. We plant in rows of three - about 2 shovel handles apart - mixed up gums, wattles, and banksias so that there is a good mixture. If one species fails then there is no great loss - other species will fill the gaps.

I raise my seeds in tubes of 3/4 coarse sand and 1/4 peat moss and put a pinch of seed in each tube - mix the seeds up a bit if you like, and when about 3-4 pairs of leaves form, plant the whole lot without re-potting up - this eliminates root disturbance.

The species which could do well are:

  • Allocasuarina verticillata (Drooping Sheoak)
  • Eucalyptus leucoxylon
  • Eucalyptus gomphocephala (Tuart Gum)
  • Banksia praemorsa
  • Banksia spinulosa
  • Agonis flexuosa
  • Hakea elliptica
  • Melaleuca elliptica
  • Melaleuca armillaris
  • Callistemon - a mixture
Agonis flexuosa

Agonis flexuosa

Select the thumbnail image or plant name for a higher resolution image. (44k)

Good luck

Cherree Densley

One Mystery Solved....

I wonder is you could help me with some info on the plant called Clematis aristata, also known sometimes as old man's beard or goat's beard .

Bob Baseley,

This is a common climbing plant of open forests of the east coast from southern Queensland to Tasmania, usually in moist, sheltered areas. It's reasonably vigorous but not too rampant and a good garden plant. It's a leaf climber and uses its leaves to attach itself to other plants and structures.

The plant is not particularly conspicuous until it flowers and sets seed. It has white, starry flowers in spring and these are followed by masses of fluffy seed heads which give rise to the common name. By coincidence, there is a photo of the flower and a diagram of the way the leaves attach to other objects in the article "Australian Climbing Plants" in this issue.

....But Another One Passed Over!

I truly hope you can help me with a problem in identifying a certain Australian flower. I have friends who live in Melbourne who mention a plant called a "seaside daisy". I have tried to find reference to this plant in US nurseries, but have yet to find anyone familiar with the term. The botanical name isn't available to me. Are you familiar with this flower? Does it go by another "general" name? Any help you could give would be greatly appreciated.


Mona Meacham
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, USA

Ah....the old "common name" oxymoron.....

The trouble with common names of Australian plants is that a lot of them aren't all that common! Some are more convoluted than the botanical name, many are just local names used in a restricted geographical area and there are even some cases where the same common name is applied to several totally distinct species.

So, with that "cop out" of an introduction, I have to say that I don't know of any plant with the name "Seaside Daisy". This probably a local name which is not used elsewhere. There are quite a few daisy-like plants that occur along the southern Australian coastline and your plant could be any one of them. If I had to take a guess I'd say it might be a Carpobrotus species, possibly Carpobrotus rossii. This is not a true daisy but it has large daisy-like pink and white flowers and is common on coastal dunes. It has very succulent leaves and a prostrate habit of growth.

Carpobrotus is a cosmopolitan genus and some species such as South Africa's C.edulus are naturalised in Australia and California. In Australia they are often called "pigface" (don't ask me why!). You would probably find some Carpobrotus species available at US nurseries.

Sorry I can't be more helpful but maybe some reader has heard of "Seaside Daisy".

An Aussie weed in Oregon

I read an interesting online article by Tony Cavanagh about Australian plants as weeds abroad (APOL December 1997). I thought you might like to know that Acacia decurrens/dealbata is very familiar to residents of the immediate coastline of Oregon. It has been spreading for the last 50 years and is knocked back about every 20 years by a great freeze (below 20 degrees F; -7 degrees C) but it always returns along with other exotics like Cytisus scoparius, Elymus glaucus, Cotoneaster simmonsii, Ulex europea and Erica arborea to choke out the natives.

On the other hand many Australian native plants are perfect for culture in the Pacific Northwest because they do wonderfully in our average winters. There is a large push to start experimenting with Australian plants here because they are well adapted to handling our hot, dry Mediterranean summers. Many are also some of our most reliable winter bloomers, Grevillea victoriae loves it here, as do several leptospermums , callistemons and lomatias.

Paul Bonine,
Portland, Oregon, USA.

Thanks for that feedback - it's very interesting to hear how Australian plants perform overseas and particularly if any are becoming pests. Acacia decurrens and A.dealbata are similar but are separate species. They have been mentioned as being pests elsewhere..eg. South Africa and parts of Europe. There is an interesting article on Acacia dealbata in France, that is worth looking at.

It's interesting that you mention Lomatia. This is one of the forgotten members of the Protea family, probably because the species are not as flamboyant as some of their relatives (Banksia, Grevillea, Dryandra, etc). Many are very attractive and deserving of wider cultivation. There's a bit more about the genus in "Short Cuts" in this issue

What Tree?

This question is directed to the Australian Plants Online Electronic Mailbox.

I live in Sydney on the North Shore. I have to remove a tree from my garden and replace it with another - that grows to at least 8 metres. I would like to replace the tree with an Australian native, and I would welcome your suggestions. The garden is quite large, there is a Liquid Amber nearby (but not blocking the sun), and is north - north west facing. I would like to grow a tree which has spectacular flowers, and which doesn't shed large amounts of leaves or other plant material (there is a pool nearby). Friends have recommended Eucalyptus ficifolia. Any thoughts?

Richard Bowler,
Roseville, Sydney, Australia

I'd like to hear what others have to say but my own view is that E.ficifolia (now Corymbia ficifolia) would be a risk. It's a great tree but Sydney is not it's ideal climate even though there are some good specimens about. There would be a fairly high risk of early death.

A tree which would be suitable is the Tree Waratah (Alloxylon flammeum or Oreocallis wickhamii as it used to be called). It's a bit hard to find because it isn't easy to propagate but it would grow to about the right height and it has spectacular clusters of red flowers. If you check out specialist native plant nurseries you might find one.

Other possibilities:

  • Pittosporum rhombifolium - attractive foliage and bright orange berries but it might not reach 8 metres
  • Grevillea robusta (Silky Oak) Very common but still very spectacular
  • Brachychiton acerifolium (Illawarra Flame tree) very spectacular in good years but a bit erratic in flowering
  • Stenocarpus sinuatus (Firewheel tree) - Spectacular red flowers
  • Eucalyptus leucoxylon "rosea" - not as spectacular as ficifolia but the red flowers are still very attractive
  • Elaeocarpus reticulatus (Blueberry Ash) Pink Form - pink flowers and blue berries

A Native Passionfruit? Perhaps not.....

I have a creeper in my garden which currently is in fruit with small yellow orbs approx 2.5 cm long and approx 2 cm wide. The fruit has both the odour and taste of passion fruit and the creeper is about 3 metres long.

Is this a native plant? and can you tell me it's name?

Ernie Jones,
Brisbane, Australia

Without seeing the plant it's difficult to give a definite answer. However, if the taste of the fruit is pleasant and similar to the commercial passion fruit, it's probably not native.

There are three native passion fruits and while all produce edible fruit, they are usually described as fairly unpalatable. Your plant is more likely to be one of the 11 or so exotic species that have naturalised in Australia. A possibility would be Passiflora foetida which has small yellow fruit much as you described and which has a pleasant flavour.

Pickled Parrots!

My sister gave me two trees that I believe to be natives. I have been told their common name is drunken parrot tree and according to one nursery I consulted, their botanical genus name is Shottia with a species name that sounds like brachitapetulia (???). I'd love to find out more information about these trees as I'd like to plant them out in the garden in an appropriate spot and since we are only on a three-quarter acre block, I want to be sure that these trees are appropriate for the yard.

Any help you could give me would be appreciated as I can find no reference to either drunken parrot trees or shottia in either book or other web sites.

Francis O'Connor,
Somewhere in Australia

I'm sure that if there were an Australian plant by the name of "Drunken Parrot Tree", I would have heard of it! But, having gone through my own references without success, I called for help from John Wrigley.

As it turns out, the plant isn't native but I'm sure that you'll appreciate John's description:

Drunken parrot

"Yes the tree in question is Schotia brachypetala, a tree to about 8 m high which hails from South Africa. It has deep red pea-like flowers in spring. These are very heavily loaded with nectar which is enjoyed by lorikeets. When they have had their fill or, perhaps more than their fill, they tend to be come intoxicated and often roll around on the ground in a drunken stupor.

In Rockhampton where the species is used as a street tree, it is a common sight to see parrots in this state.

I am growing the tree in Coffs Harbour and although it flowers well, I have not seen many drunk parrots under it. It is a good garden plant and is readily propagated from seed."

Thirsty Eucs

I've heard that there is a project in Alice Springs (Northern Territory) or nearby on planting eucalypts in sewerage or treated water from sewerage. The red gum trees are to provide wood for aboriginal people. Apparently the trees are doing well and growing fast.

I am researching this idea for a group in Cunnamulla. Do you have any information on this project or know a place where I could search for it?

Thanks a million.

Elizabeth Rintel,
Sunny Australia

I don't know anything about the Alice Springs project but eucalypts have been used in sewage treatment in several areas. In general they have been used to take up irrigated, treated sewage effluent (ie as a final stage of treatment after more conventional treatment processes).

I believe that the Wodonga Council (north-east Victoria) undertook trials using several different euc species some years ago but I don't know the current status of treatment in that area.

Hawkesbury Council (north west of Sydney) uses treated effluent to irrigate eucs at their Mc Graths Hill sewage treatment plant. I understand that the foliage from these plants is harvested for koala food.

You might consider contacting the Australian Water and Wastewater Association (AWWA) who might be able to put you in touch with people who are active in this area of research.

Paperbark Satinash

I am trying to find info on a plant that I recently bought. It is a paperbark satinash (Syzygium papyraceum). I am unable to find reference to it anywhere. All I know is that it comes from north Queensland, has red bark, purple flowers and fruit. Any information would be greatly appreciated.


John Wrigley replies:

"Syzygium papyraceum is a large buttressed tree with attractive light brown papery bark. The young growth, unlike many syzygiums, is green and the smallish flowers are lilac with a strong spicy perfume. the fruits are purple, globular and about 3 cm diameter.

It is hardy in cultivation at Coffs Harbour where we do not have any frosts. In ten years, it is about 8m high and has flowered for the last few years. It is growing in good well-drained loam and is irrigated in dry weather. The bark is attractive."

Eucalypt Frost Tolerances

I am a botanist in Tucson, Arizona USA and am interested in trying some of the smaller species of eucalypts for landscaping here.

The most commonly used species now are E.camaldulensis, E.microtheca and E.polyanthemos. Occasionally one sees E.leucoxylon, E.sideroxylon, E.papuana and a few others. All of these are too large for most yards and E.camaldulensis is infamous for buckling walls, streets, sidewalks, etc.

I know of many smaller species from 3 years of work in Western Australia planting trees in the wheatbelt and other arid parts. Many of the small WA eucs are very handsome and are the right size for the small yards of the new housing developments around Tucson. My only concern is that they may not be tolerant of the frosts we get here. It gets down to around -4 degrees C (mid-20s F) every winter and on occasion will get into the teens. The record low is about -11 degrees C (11 or 12 degrees F) -- cold enough to severely damage even the native vegetation.

Can you tell me where I might find information on the cold tolerances of the eucalypts (especially those of the wheatbelt and goldfields areas of WA)?

Greg Corman,
Arizona, USA

I'm not really sure where you might find the cold tolerance information for those species. This is one of those situations where Australians are not necessarily the best people to give advice because we don't get those sorts of temperature extremes in the major population centres (I sent the following information to Greg but, in fact, he already had a copy of the reference mentioned - not surprising given that he spent several years in the area covered by the publication).

The only reference I know is the book "Eucalypts of the Western Australian Goldfields (and the adjacent wheatbelt)" by G M Chippendale. This was published by the Australian Government Publishing Service in 1973 and has been out of print for some years.

The book describes many species and lists temperature extremes for each. A cursory look at some of the species suggests that the extreme minimum for most species is in the -5 to -2 C (23 to 27 F) range so they would probably be worth trying in your area. I doubt if anyone knows whether they could cope with the record low that you mention.

Just for the record, the tree known as E.papuana in Australia is now known as Corymbia aparrerinja. C.papuana is now applied to a species from New Guinea.

A Craving for Chocolate!

Block of choc

I am doing a search on chocolate scented plants and wondered if you could provide me with a list of any that you might know of. I know that it sounds like a 'weird' idea, but believe me, there really are chocolate scented plants out there!

Hope you can help me with my search---thanks!


Well, you could melt some chocolate over a bunch of banksias ............

Just kidding!

The only chocolate-scented Australian plants that I know of are two members of the genus Dichopogon; D.strictus and D.fimbriatus. These are members of the Lily family and are known as Chocolate Lilies. They have mauve flowers with a chocolate scent.

John Wrigley couldn't add to this small list but suggested Susan seek out "Cosmos atrosanguineus" from Mexico which has the most deliciously chocolate scented flowers. It is a tuberous perennial which reaches about 50 cm high and has deep maroon flowers about 30 cm diameter."

A Bit Nutty!

My grand-daughter has a school assignment which requires her to get information on the bauble or bopper nut (same nut, variant spellings). Presumably it is Australian, and related to the Macadamia Nut family. Could you provide any information?

Florida, USA

It's called "bopple nut" and, you're right, it is related to the Macadamia and it is Australian. It's also known as the monkey nut (there's probably a good story in that name! -perhaps someone knows it?)

The botanical name is Hicksbeachia pinnatifolia and it belongs to the Protea family (Proteaceae) so it's also closely related to Banksia, Grevillea and Telopea (waratah). It comes from rainforests of north eastern New South Wales and south eastern Queensland and is a small tree to about 12 metres with very long lobed leaves up to 70cm long.

The nuts are pleasantly edible but not as tasty as the Macadamia and there is a similar species from north Queensland known as Hicksbeachia pilosa.

My reference for these notes is the book "Banksias, Waratahs and Grevilleas" by John Wrigley and Murray Fagg which contains a wealth of information on all Australian Proteaceae.


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

Australian Plants online - March 1998
The Society for Growing Australian Plants