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Are you fed up with Drop-dead Plants?

Doug Rickard

..... if you are, then I may have found just the plant for you. The plant is the kingia {Kingia australis) for the botanically minded). I came across a number of these during my recent trip to Western Australia.

Recent carbon dating tests have indicated that some of the larger kingias in the wild are from 750 to 900 years old. That makes them considerably older than most of the large forest trees in the world. However, there is a downside to planting one in your garden and that is they are very slow growing. So it will be your descendants who could be the proud owners of a unique 8 m high kingia - that is providing global warming hasn't wiped out the whole human race in the meantime!

Kingia australis   
Kingia australis
Photo: Alfred Guhl

So what is so unique about the kingia? Well firstly it has no known relatives anywhere in the world (and it only grows in the south west of Western Australia). If that's not enough to make it unique it's also a rather odd looking plant with a number of unusual features. Firstly it has a straight trunk up to 40 cm diameter and this is topped off with a mass of thin green flexible leaves that can be up to 90 cm long. When these leaves die they just hang down around the top of the trunk. The kingia also produces aerial roots from just below the top of the plant. These grow down the trunk beneath the bases of the leaves. A new batch of aerial roots is produced every year. This strange root system is a reminder that the kingia is a herb masquerading as a tree.

Then there are the flowers. In early spring the kingia produces a topknot of flower spikes. These take a year to mature and, when they do, they are hairy and a greenish-cream. As the flower heads are borne on short stems the plant looks like it is wearing a crown of drumsticks.

Of course, with such an oddball plant the fruit just had to be a nut!

I reckon that Mother Nature created this plant on her day off when she was in a rather frivolous mood.

From the newsletter of the Sutherland Group of the Australian Plants Society, November 2006.

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Australian Plants online - 2006
Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants