[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!!

....and, if you'd like to contact any of the correspondents and no email address is listed, please feel free to do so through the editor.


Looking for Beaufortia

By chance I came across a reference in a 1983 issue of the Australian Plants journal that at that time you were the leader of the Beaufortia Study Group of SGAP. In recent Growing Australian (APS Vic) newsletters there is no mention of a study group investigating Beaufortia, I would like to ask you if you know whether there's still any Beaufortia enthusiasts around.

Moreover, commercial seed places seem to have a narrow range of Beaufortia seeds, and what I have ordered has not been of good quality. Would you by any chance still have seed of eg. B.micrantha, B.eriocephala, B.anisandra, B.bracteosa, and B.purpurea ?

I grow a range of mostly Western Australian plants here on the back slope of the Dandenongs and have had much luck, due to excellent drainage and deep friable soil. I would like to add a few beaufortias.

Hans Griesser
Melbourne, Victoria

   Beaufortia decussata

Beaufortia decussata.
Select the thumbnail image or highlighted name for a higher resolution image (30k).

This goes back to a time in my life when I had more enthusiasm than sense! Trying to grow Beaufortia in the humid summers of Sydney requires more patience than I could muster. The only minor success I had was B.decussata which I managed to kept going for about 7-8 years.

The Beaufortia Study Group hasn't operated since (I think) the early 1980s.. There are probably Beaufortia enthusiasts around but not in any formalised way. I think the Melaleuca and Allied Genera Study Group loosely includes Beaufortia but I've never seen anything much on them in the Group's newsletters.

For those not familiar with Beaufortia, it is a genus of about 18 species in the myrtle family and is closely related to Melaleuca. They are very colourful small shrubs which deserve wider cultivation in suitable climates.


Germination Woes

I have been raising various eucalypts and other native species from seed with some success but some species seem to defeat my efforts and I would value any expertise your organisation can offer.

Does the month of planting the seed play an important role? I am still awaiting the emergence of my coastal tea-tree (Leptospermum laevigatum). I planted the seed about 10 weeks ago into a river sand, coastal soil and low phosphate potting mix. No luck. Any clues ?

Rob Buntine

There is no easy answer to your question as there are many factors that may prevent or delay seed germination . I'm not aware of any list that indicates the best sowing times for different species.

As a general guide, most seeds seem to germinate more quickly and reliably in the warmer months so I wouldn't give up on your Leptospermum seeds yet. It could be that you might not see any action until spring.

Having said that, my experience suggests that some species from Mediterranean-type climates (eg south Western Australia) may germinate better in autumn/winter perhaps because of the very dry summers experienced in those areas which would make survival of summer germinated seedlings difficult.

Other factors:

  • Seeds of alpine or high altitude species often need a period of cold temperature before they will germinate - one way of doing this is to store the seed in the refrigerator for a period before sowing (this is called "stratification").
  • Many seeds have a dormancy that may need to be overcome. The most common example of this is seeds of wattles which have a hard outer coating.
  • Some seeds defy all attempts to germinate them - eg Persoonia and many Boronia species.
  • Seeds may simply not be viable.

There's some more info on seed germination on our web site.


What Euc is That??

We would very much like to plant a Eucalyptus tree in our small yard. The tree will be the feature and will have the whole area to itself.

Across from us in a south facing yard is a most beautiful young tree now 1.8m high. the owners do not know what it is. It had profuse pink flowers and now has very large nuts which face up. the large dark green leaves are wide at the base to a sharp point (sort of a long tear drop shape). The twigs are very red now in winter and the leaves have a red main vein fading to green. the young top leaves are red now. The smoothish bark is greyish pinkish. It has one trunk and is upright with branches that are fairly upright.

Can you help us identify the tree and let us know where we could by one.

Cherry and Graham Jones

It sounds very much like Corymbia ficifolia, the Red Flowering Gum, or one of its hybrids (it's also known as Eucalyptus ficifolia).

   Corymbia ficifolia

Select the thumbnail image or highlighted name for a higher resolution image (43k).

There should be no problem in obtaining one from any of the specialist native plant nurseries listed on our web site.

There are a couple of potential problems, however.

  • Most of the plants of C.ficifolia available in nurseries are grown from seed and the flower colour cannot be guaranteed - this is probably why your neighbour's plant has pink flowers rather than red. Flower colour of seed=grown plants may be red, pink, orange or even white.
  • The red-flowering gum can't be regarded as a really hardy plant in Sydney - there are plenty of plants growing successfully in Sydney suburbs but just as many fail as succeed. This is a general problem with plants native to south Western Australia - many of them don't cope well with Sydney's humid and usually wet summers. However, the fact that your neighbour's tree is successful suggests that your area might be a suitable micro-climate.

If you really want to grow this tree, I would suggest that you look for a grafted specimen - again many of the specialist nurseries will have grafted plants. The colour of these can be guaranteed and they are a much longer-term proposition than seed-grown plants. The downside is that grafted plants cost an arm and a leg.

If you look for grafted plants, also check out Corymbia "Summer Red" and "Summer Beauty". These are hybrids of C.ficifolia and C.ptychocarpa and look very similar to the red flowering gum both in habit and flowers. Again, the flower colour can be guaranteed with these.

Hope this helps.


What Euc is That???.....Again!!

I have just been notified today by my council that they wish to prune/remove? a Eucalyptus in the verge adjacent to my residence. Having nurtured this self sown tree for some 36 years from a 600mm high, scrubby bush to a 15 to 20 m tree, and rescuing it from death by continual watering when it was very disturbed by the installation of some deep drainage some 6 years ago, I am not too keen on the idea.

The council have called it a E.camaldulensis whereas I have always understood it to be E.leucoxylon. As I believe that one of their reasons for their proposed action will be the trait of the camaldulensis to drop branches, I need to be sure of what it really is. It certainly has never to date dropped any branches and I would expect a more gnarled and twisted branch formation than this tree has for it to be a E.camaldulensis.

As they have predictably given me only a few days to make a representation I ask that you advise me at your very earliest.

Graeme Goldsmith

OK- the best I can do is give descriptions of the two species based on Brooker and Kleinig's "Field Guide to the Eucalypts Vol.1" You can't really judge by the shape of the tree as characteristics in the wild don't necessarily occur in cultivation (eg. I have a 20 year old E.camaldulensis here which is tall and stately and certainly not typical of the "gnarled and twisted" appearance that is often associated with this species).

E.leucoxylon - Bark rough and usually persistent for 1 to 2 metres (from the base), fibrous and box-like; decorticating above to leave a smooth white, yellow or bluish surface. Adult leaves lance-shaped up to 10 x 2 cm, green or bluish green, dull. Gumnuts barrel shaped to 1.2 x 1.2 cm, valves 4 to 6 below rim level.

E.camaldulensis - Bark decorticating over the whole trunk or accumulating towards the base, smooth, white, grey, brown or pinkish grey. Adult leaves lance shaped up to 25 x 2 cm green, dull, moderately reticulate. Gumnuts hemispherical to 0.6 x 1 cm, valves 3 to 5 strongly exerted.

Gumnuts of E.camaldulensis   

The best distinguishing character is going to be the gumnuts if you can find any either on the tree or on the ground. The difference in the valve structure is very distinctive.

In case you aren't sure what the "valves" are - they are the parts of the gumnut that open up to release the seed. In some species, the valves, once opened, remain below the rim of the gumnut (leucoxylon) while in other cases they project out beyond the rim (camaldulensis - as shown at right).


Seed Germination After Fire

Would you help us with a question, please?

Which Australian plants need fire so that their seeds can germinate?

Many thanks for your reply,

Year 4/5
Gympie East State School

Many plants that are found in areas where bushfires occur have developed a number of different methods to allow them to survive.

In some cases the plants are able to send out new shoots from the roots or from the trunks after the fire has passed. Other plants have special methods of protecting their seeds so that they aren't destroyed by the fire. Some plants are able to re-grow using both methods.

Banksia oblongifolia pods
Follicles of most Banksia species open to release seeds after a fire. (27k)

Plants use two main ways to allow their seeds to germinate after a bush fire:

  • Some plants store their seeds in woody cones or pods which are usually not destroyed by the fire. After the fire passes the cones open up and the seeds fall to the ground where they can germinate. Plants that use this method are Banksia, Hakea, Callistemon (bottlebrushes), Melaleuca (paperbarks) and many eucalypts (gum trees).

  • The seeds of some other are stored in the soil (often by ants) where they are protected from the heat of the fire. Plants that use this method are wattles (Acacia) and many of the "pea" flowers such as Pultenaea and Dillwynia.

I hope this helps.


Growing Banksia in Rhode Island?

While I found your website very interesting, I would like to know if it would be possible to purchase a Banksia plant and have it shipped to my home in Rhode Island (North East Coast of USA).

Thank you.

Lisa C. Marzullo
Rhode Island USA

I don't know of any Australian nurseries that would export a plant. However, there are several US nurseries that you could try.

Banksia canei   
Banksia canei   

Select the thumbnail image or highlighted name for a higher resolution image (38k).

I suspect that it will be difficult to grow a Banksia in your area which (I think) is in Zone 5 of the USDA Plant Hardiness Zoning System. This zone has average minimum winer temperatures of about -23 to -28 o C. I would expect this to be far too cold for growing most banksias out of doors except, perhaps, for B.canei which occurs in sub alpine areas.

For more information on the USDA system, and its relation to Australian conditions, see "First Cuttings".


Growing Eucalypts in the Netherlands

I have a tree nursery in The Netherlands, We grow mainly winter-hard garden plants and trees. Some time ago I got from a colleague grower some Eucalyptus plants and I was very charmed by those beautiful plants.

We live here near the North Sea coast and they are growing very well here. We also don't have very hard winters here and they should be resistant to some frost. But now I want to try to grow them myself, and I want to ask you for some information about growing Eucalyptus.

Eucalyptus pauciflora subsp. niphophila   
Eucalyptus pauciflora subsp. niphophila   

Select the thumbnail image or highlighted name for a higher resolution image (50k).

I need to know where I can buy the seed, how it should be treated to germinate and how to grow the plants after that.

I am interested in the following species: E.perriniana, E.pauciflora subsp. debeuzevillei, E.pauciflora subsp. niphophila, but maybe you can offer more interesting culitvars for our climate.

Hoping to hear from you soon.

Jan-willem de Witte
The Netherlands

Eucalyptus seed is available from most of the suppliers listed on our web site.

Generally, Eucalyptus seed germinates readily without any special treatment. A few species from high altitudes may require stratification prior to germination. This involves placing the seed in a cold environment (eg refrigerator) for 3-6 weeks before sowing. This treatment may be needed for E.pauciflora subsp. debeuzevillei and E.pauciflora subsp. niphophila.


Australian Plants for Effluent Disposal Areas


As the old saying goes, the grass is always greener over the septic tank!

Given a trench type effluent disposal system for stables or dog boarding kennels where only liquid wastes (i.e. urine and dam or tank water used for washing down the areas) are drained, can you help me with the types of native plants that would grow in the vicinity of this type of effluent disposal system and thus assisting in water absorption from the trench.

Obviously there would be elevated acid and nitrogen levels due to the uric acid waste although this would be significantly diluted.

Thank you in advance for any assistance you can provide.

Henry Cordani

There is a bit of research going on into Australian native plants suited to effluent disposal areas for domestic-type septic tanks and other types of on-site sewage disposal systems. I'm not sure whether your situation is equivalent to a domestic effluent but the list published in the New South Wales' "Environment and Public Health Guidelines for On-site Sewage Management for Single Households" would probably be a good starting point.

The list is claimed to have been compiled with the assistance of the Australian Plants Society but I haven't been able to find anyone in the Society who provided advice - some of the recommendations are a bit odd.

Anyway....the publication can be viewed online at or downloaded from the NSW Department of Local Government's web site. The list is in one of the appendices.


Xanthorrhoea seedlings

I have been quite successful in germinating X.australis and X.pressii seeds and have now potted on the young plants into deep 2" pots using a sandy peat soil.

What sort of fertilizer would be best? Are they tolerant of phosphorus?

I water thoroughly when dry and have them in a greenhouse that gets 30+ degrees C, with filtered light, at this time of year. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Judith McLauchlan
British Columbia, Canada

A general purpose but slow-release fertilizer should be OK.

I have no information on the phosphorus tolerance of X.australis and X.pressii but tests on X.quadrangulata and X.semiplana showed no P toxicity problems and I would expect yours to be similar.

You can check the details of phosphorus tolerance for a range of Australian plants in the December 1997 issue of Australian Plants online.


Zamia "Fern"

Could you please help me locate a photo of a Zamia Fern?

My niece was working in the Daintree area last year and was told that a particular fern that she loved was called "Zamia". I have tried searching the net for this fern but no luck so far. Any sort of help would be appreciated.

Also, a friend says that he found a Zamia Creek around the Mackay area. I hope this is all making sense, and that you can help me.


Yes...it makes complete sense.

Macrozamia communis   
Macrozamia communis   

Select the thumbnail image or highlighted name for a higher resolution image (40k).


However, zamias are not ferns - they are cycads, an ancient group of plants which look a bit palm-like. There are male and female plants; the female plants produce large, pineapple-like cones containing numerous large seeds.

You'll find all you want to know about cycads (and lots that you don't) at "The Cycad Pages". A lot of it is technical but there are lots of photos and cultivation notes.

I'm not sure exactly where you could obtain a plant but most native plant nurseries in Australia would have a few species in stock. They are, however, very slow growing.


Australian Mistletoe

I discovered some questions relating to mistletoe on your interesting homepage.

Mistletoe flowers can be very attractive

I have been trying to discover the Australian species of mistletoe. But, all the very general references I have are world-wide and mention only European and American genera, none of which appears to be the type we see on eucalypts in the ACT region.

Some further web searching has come up with species names: Amylotheca dictyophilla (Queensland) and Amylotheca dictyophleba (north-eastern New South Wales, but no further information. Am I in the right vicinity? Are all Australian species of mistletoe of this genus? Where can I get better information (for a non-botanist)?

David Rosalky
Canberra, ACT

There are quite a number of different mistletoe genera in Australia - here are a few links that might help.


Poisonous Emu Bushes?

In July we were in Broken Hill and went on the mail run in a four wheel drive. Calling at one of the station on the way, the grazer was explaining how he was changing from sheep to goats as the market for sheep had drooped. In conversation he was saying that the new growth of the Eremophila was toxic to the goats, and some of the goats had died from the results. I don't know which Eremophila it was.

Has any body heard of this?

No reference is made of toxins of the Eremophila in Australian Native Plants by John Wrigley and Murray Fagg.

Graeme Thorpe

Some species of Eremophila (emu bushes) are known to be toxic. The article "Australian Native Poisonous Plants" from the September 1997 issue of Australian Plants online refers to.....

"The cyanogenic glycosides in many plants including native or spotted fuchsia (Eremophila maculata) and native birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus australis) liberate cyanide when the plant tissue is damaged and kill insects, snails or slugs feeding on them. The same process may kill domestic animals as well."

Elliot and Jones ("Encyclopaedia of Australian Plants") refers to toxic properties of E.gilesii, E.mitchellii anad E.sturtii "under some circumstances".

The species that the grazier is having trouble with could be any one of those four as they all seem to be widespread. Of course there may be other toxic species as well.


Pollination and Seed Dispersal

Hi, i'm in year 11 and i'm doing a school project for biology on Australian native plants. It involves talking about what mechanisms the plant uses to pollinate and how the seeds are dispersed. I'm doing wattle, banksia, bottle brush and grevillea. So if you had any information on those plants that you could tell me about it would be very helpful.

Tim Rose

There are some pages on our web site that might help:

In addition, the article "Plants, Animals, Sex or.... Don't Kill the Messengers" from the September 1999 issue of Australian Plants online should help.


Besotted with Boab!

I am particularly besotted with bottle trees (Baoab?) and, as I live in Sydney, I don't often even find people who have seen them. Are you aware of any nursery that deals in such trees or even any literature that could assist?


The Boab tree (Adansonia gregorii) is not suited to Sydney's climate which is why you don't see it growing here. I don't know of any Sydney nursery that stocks the plant but you could try those in the nursery list on our web site. The true "bottle tree", Brachychiton ruprestris, is more suited to Sydney and you might like to try it as an alternative.

Brachychiton rupestris Adansonia gregorii
Two "bottle trees".
Brachychiton rupestris (left) and the boab Adansonia gregorii (right).

Select the thumbnail image or highlighted name for a higher resolution image (40k and 31k).
Photos: Brian Walters and Aussie Outback Tours


Pretreatment of Seed

I'm researching information on Australian native plants as part of my HSC preliminary course.

It would be a great help to me if you were able to give me some information on the pretreatment of Australian native seeds including: abrasion, sacrification, heat, smoke and leaching treatments.

Richelle Barker

Many seeds do require some form of pretreatment to achieve satisfactory germination. The treatments you mention are all discussed briefly on our web site. I suggest you take a look at the site and get back to us if you need more detailed information.


Australian Plants At Risk

I was just wondering if you knew a good web site that listed some information like location, appearance, major threats, etc, of endangered Australian plants?

I have tried looking and have found very little information.

Trent Noble

As a start, take a look at the "Plants at Risk" page on our website. It includes information on threats and also explains the way plants are added to the Schedules of the Commonwealth Government's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). In addition, it includes a number of specific examples (including distribution details and photographs) as well as links to other relevant sites.


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

Australian Plants online - September 2001
Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants