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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!!


Pea flower seedlings struggling

I am growing a heap of native plants for my new garden and I am wondering if there is a simple way to encourage root nodule development in Kennedia and other native legumes. I get an excellent germination rate, but when I pot on kennedias and some acacias, a large percentage become yellow and die off. Some have struggled even when I plant them out into soil.

Should I be mixing soil into the potting mix? There don't appear to be any legumes growing naturally at my place, apart from some acacias planted a few years ago. The main vegetation cover is carpet weed! I have been told you can harvest nodules from container grown acacias and peas, crush them up and water the mix in over the kennedias, but I am not sure of the quantity or dilution factor required. The acacias and hardenbergias I am growing do not appear to have nodules at this stage, but I found some in some pultenea tube stock I bought.


The idea of using nodules from acacias and other legumes is undoubtedly worth a try. The following short item by Matt Hurst and Sue Pugh, from the newsletter of ASGAP's Australian Daisy Study Group, outlines the method used by Jayfield's Nursery as applied to the pea-flowered Daviesia latifolia.

"The solution for D.latifolia was to take the potted three surviving plants from the previous season out of their pots and remove every nodule from their roots.

Root nodules  
Root nodules
Click for larger image

The theory was that these few plants had managed to make the required association with a nitrogen-fixing agent and could be used to inoculate a fresh batch of potting mix and seed. After all the nodules had been removed (a lengthy process that the plants have survived twice), the nodules were crushed with a Bamix and mixed with tap water. This inoculated slurry was poured over the freshly sown seed. The results were remarkable as germination rose from about 10% to a commercially viable 85%.

Seedlings grew vigorously but, like many pea species, had to be kept a bit dry as root rot in the peaty mix is a constant problem. Later experiments have shown that a commercially available inoculant used for Acacia species works nearly as well.

So if any of you are having trouble with germinating or growing on any pea species, do the following:

  • Buy a couple of small Acacia or pea species that will grow happily in 6 or 8 inch pots.
  • When you wish to propagate knock your plants out of their pots, remove the soil, use your fingers to remove the nodules, and then re-pot immediately.
  • Crush the nodules, add enough water to make into a slurry, and then water the pots with the seed lready sown into them.

Kept in the fridge the bacteria may last a few days. Extended exposure to sunlight will kill the bacteria. The mix is always used straight away."


Banksia - The Naming game!

I am writing with reference to your web site providing the list of name changes for Australian Plants.

The list indicates Banksia cunninghamii is the current name for Banksia spinulosa var. cunninghamii. The web site for the Australian National Botanic Gardens indicates that the current name is Banksia spinulosa var. cunninghamii and the previous name is Banksia cunninghamii.

Do you have a reference for the name change you list?


This is one of those situations where there probably isn't a right or wrong answer.

Banksia cunninghamii  
Banksia cunninghamii
Click for larger image

My understanding of the situation is as follows:

Banksia cunninghamii is a name that dates from the early 1800s. However, when Alex George revised the genus Banksia in the 1980s he determined that there was no justification for retaining it as a distinct species and he included it under Banksia spinulosa as a distinct variety (B.spinulosa var.cunninghamii).

However, George's publication does not oblige other authorities to accept the change and some do and some don't. The Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney have determined that (at least for the forms occurring in New South Wales) B.cunninghamii should be retained as a separate species. This is the opinion adopted on the ASGAP web site mainly because, unlike other varieties of B.spinulosa, B cunninghamii is easily identified as separate as it doesn't have a lignotuber.

So B.cunninghamii is not really a "change" but a retention of the old name. A number of authorities (eg. National Botanic Gardens) still regard it as a variety of B.spinulosa so you can really adopt whichever classification you are comfortable with.

I'm not sure that this really clarifies the situation, but I hope it helps.


Family Name Changes

I found the article on proposed new names for wattles interesting (Australian Plants Online, March 2003) - I hope it remains Acacia!

What I also found interesting was the name used for the Acacia Family - "Leguminaceae". I always thought that Acacia was in the Mimosaceae. I then did a quick search and found various subgroups of Leguminaceae with Mimosaceae (but spelt slightly differently) as one of these (Fabaceae and others being other listed subgroups). I understand taxonomic reasons for the Genus change but how are we meant to keep up with the Family changes as well?


My understanding as to whether to use Leguminaceae or Mimosaceae depends on the botanist or institution involved. Some separate the acacias out into a separate family (Mimosaceae) while others prefer to keep them as a subfamily in Leguminaceae.

The ASGAP website uses Mimosaceae (and uses Fabaceae for the 'pea' family) because that seemed to be the method that most references used when the site was established. I'm not sure that there is a definitive answer, however, and either method can be correct depending on your point of view.


Is it a Bunya??

We recently brought a property in Upper Ferntree Gully, Melbourne. We have a very unique tree (40 metre tall) which I believe may be a bunya pine. However, when I read the information about the tree it says that it only is found in Queensland which would mean one of two things - either it is not a bunya pine or it's a very rare place for a bunya pine to be growing.

  Araucaria bidwillii
  Araucaria bidwillii
Click for larger image

I wanted to know if their are any other bunyas growing in the south of the continent.


If you could take a photo, it would help. They have a fairly distinctive growth habit.

Bunya pines (Araucaria bidwillii) are native to Queensland but they are widely planted elsewhere. They are very common in eastern New South Wales, for example and I'm fairly confident that they are reasonably common in Victoria as well because they are cold tolerant despite their northern origin.

The botanical name is Araucaria bidwillii and there is some information on our website.


Propagating a Bunya

  Araucaria bidwillii seeds
  Araucaria bidwillii - seeds
Photo: Jan Sked
Click for larger image

We would like the correct information on how to grow a Bunya Nut Tree.


Bunya pine seeds don't require any special treatment. However, the seeds need to be sown fresh as apparently the viability decreases with time.


Growing Dampiera in the USA

I am a direct descendant of William Dampier, the explorer and botanist and recently I was informed by a brother doing family research that a flower named after William Dampier existed (Dampiera).

I have searched high and low for this plant. Is there anyway I could get seeds from your organization, or can you direct me to a place where I might be successful. I doubt I will have any luck at propagating this plant, but I surely would like to try. Any information you can give me would be helpful.

Georgia, USA

It must be exciting to have a famous ancestor!

Dampiera is not a single plant but a whole genus of about 60-70 species. You will find the following two species described on our web site:

Dampiera purpurea  
Dampiera stricta  
Click for larger images  

Unfortunately Dampiera species are not easy to grow from seed but some suppliers may have a limited range. The web site also has a list of seed suppliers, some of which have email addresses which may help in tracking down some seed.

You may be better off trying US nurseries for live plants. There are some US nurseries which specialise in Australian native plants - you'll find three listed on our Nurseries Page. They may be able to do a mail order if they have the plants.

Whether you will be able to grow the plant(s) in Georgia is difficult to say but I'd like to hear how you go!

You might also be interested to know that another Australian plant was renamed to commemorate William Dampier a couple of years ago although, in this case, the new name hasn't been generally accepted by the botanical community. However, it still has a Dampier connection as he was the first European to collect specimens of it.

The plant in question is one of Australia's most spectacular wildflowers, 'Sturt's Desert Pea/. This is known as 'Swainsona formosa' but an Australian botanist published the name 'Willdampia formosa' for it in 1999. This was done because 'Sturt's Desert Pea' does have some distinct differences to other swainsonas and was one of the plants originally collected by Dampier on 1 September 1699.

You'll find some of this story in a previous issue of Australian Plants online.

The specimens collected by Dampier in 1699 still exist and are housed at Oxford in the United Kingdom.

I hope this helps.


Scale on a Grass Tree

I would like to know the best way to deal with scale on Xanthorrhoea johnstonii - grass tree.

G H Australia

There are two ways to deal with the problem, depending on the size of the plant.

  • If the leaves are accessible, then physical removal with a brush followed by a good hosing with a strong jet of water is the method I would use. You would need to watch the plant because you probably won't get every last insect so you need to treat any reinfestation.

  • If the plant is larger, then the traditional approach for scale is to spray with white oil. Some plants can be sensitive to the oil but Xanthorrhoea leaves are tough and I wouldn't expect any problems. However, to be safe, spray one or two leaves first and watch for any damage to the leaves over a week or so.

Are Eucalypts Native to the USA?

Can you send me any information on eucalypts please? A friend doesn't believe that the gum trees in the USA are introduced.


Your friend is not alone in this. Apparently this is a fairly common misconception with many other Americans, particularly in California where eucalypts are common.

You should find enough to convince your friend on our Eucalypt Page.


Non-flowering Patersonia

I've not managed to get Patersonia occidentalis to flower. My garden is on clay loam soil with full to partial sun in summer and with drip irrigation. The plants (3) sprout flower stalks but these never open and the bracts dry out before opening to show the petals.

  Patersonia sericea
  Patersonia sericea
Click for larger image

I know that Patersonia flowers don't last long but I've used stealth to sneak a look throughout the day and they're not opening in my absence!

Any ideas?

Adelaide, Australia

Patersonias are great little plants for the garden - as indicated in the photo of P.sericea - but it's not much fun if they don't flower!

I have heard of some plants going from the bud stage straight to seed (called cleistogamous) and this may be what is happening here. It's probably an environmental factor so I'm not sure what you can do about it.


Uses for Moreton Bay Ash

I am searching for timber uses of the moreton bay ash (Eucalyptus tessellaris). I was told that it was not a very good tree for its timber value.

Thank you for your time.

Brisbane, Australia

I don't have any direct information but I came across the following web sites which give some brief details of uses for the timber:

  • http://www.pnc.com.au/~jaxtrans/gallery/brown/carbeen.htm
  • http://people.hws.edu/fieldguide/show.asp?ID=158

I hope this helps.


Tree Waratah??

I'm hoping you may be able to assist us... we recently purchased a derelict house in Sydney which we will be demolishing in the near future, to rebuild in a slightly different position on the block.

The garden is in fairly poor state, with the trees and shrubs that do exist generally tangled amongst themselves. But this area is a haven for natives, and we have already begun to successfully establish a back boundary garden of lilly pilly, grevillias and banksias.

On visiting the house yesterday we were amazed to discover about 20 waratah flowers growing at about 1.5 to 2.5 metre height (from within a tangle of vines and chokos) close to the side boundary of our property. On clearing the covering we discovered what appears to be an old and struggling tree waratah. It seems to have been heavily pruned over the years, with the stumps of rather thick limbs evident at about 0.3 metre height. It's very straggly, and we assume would respond well to a solid pruning and a lot of compost.

However, of most concern is that it currently resides pretty much exactly under where we plan our garage to be. At best it will be beside the garage, between our house and our neighbour... hidden from view and probably not in a good position for the plant.

Can you advise how we might transplant it to our back garden bed. We are keen to save this lovely plant if we can.

New South Wales

I'm afraid I'm not going to be much help - I doubt the plant can be successfully transplanted because of its age.

Alloxylon flammeum  
Telopea speciosissima  
Tree Waratah (top)
NSW Waratah (bottom)
Click for larger images

Native plants can be successfully moved but the younger (and smaller) the plant is the greater the chance of success. The problem is that it's necessary to move the plant with as large an undisturbed root ball as possible. This is fairly easy with small plants but it is very difficult with larger plants without some specialised mechanical equipment.

With a plant of the size you mention, I think it would be almost impossible to get a large enough root ball - it would probably be far too heavy to move, without damage, even by 2 or 3 people.

However, if you are going to lose the plant anyway, then you might as well give it a go but don't be too disappointed if you don't succeed. I would try for a root ball at least 75cm in diameter. It would be best to use a sharp spade to cut a circle around the plant of that diameter and then try to work under the plant as deep as possible to cleanly sever the roots. Once you've done that I'd leave the plant where it is for a few weeks to see if it survives. If it does you then need to work a sheet of hessian or plastic completely under and around the root ball and tie the hessian firmly around the plant so that the root ball is firmly enclosed in the hessian.

Then move it to the new location and reverse the process.

I'm a bit doubtful about the plant being a tree waratah because flowering generally doesn't occur until November/December whereas yours flowered in October - perhaps it's an old, established true waratah. The accompanying photos may help in identifying it.


Growing Australian Plants in the Eastern USA

I live in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania suburbs in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. I have come into the possession of a large number of Australian wildflower and other native flowering plant seeds (running postman, banksia, etc.) I would like to grow them here, but have been told that my local soil is too rich.

Is there a way to import potting soil from Australia, and if so, how? If not, what kind of soil mix should I create so that I can maximize the chances of the plants' success?

Many thanks.

Perplexed in Pennsylvania

I don't think there's any way you could import a mix from Australia. I suspect that the US agriclture authorities might not approve due to the chance of soil pathogens being imported.

For propagating, any standard seed raising mix should be satisfactory.

For growing on in pots, you need a potting mix that is slightly acid, is low in phosphorus and contains only slow release nutrients. Obviously I don't know what range of potting mixes are available in your area but I'd be surprised if a suitable mix wasn't available - a mix suited to Proteas should be OK.

Depending on what seeds you have, you will probably find that, with the exception of Banksia and related plants, the Australian plants are not too fussy. However, whether your climate is suitable for them is another issue.

Good luck with them.


Sources for Bush Foods

Leichhardtia australis seeds   
The seeds of Leichhardtia australis.
Photo: Horst Weber

I'm looking for somewhere to buy Leichhardtia australis seeds or root (at a reasonable price). I am also interested in trying other australian native fruiting specimens, that might grow in my area.

I hope you can help me, or point me in the right direction.

Nimbin, New South Wales

I don't have any info available but the Bushfoods discussion group deals with this sort of question all the time.

You can contact the group at through its website.


Problem Tussock

We have 10 hectares and it is covered in a clumping type grass that we have been told is "tussock Grass".

I hope you can help me with answers to the following questions.

  • What is tussock grass?
  • Will cattle eat it?
  • Is it a weed? If so, how is it removed?
  • Is it dangerous to any animal?
  • Will it burn off or will it regenerate if this is done?
  • If ploughed, will it regenerate?

Ulladulla, New South Wales

Unfortunately, this is a bit outside our area of expertise.

The problem is that there are a number of different tussock grasses, some native and some introduced.

Some of the introduced ones are weeds and one in particular, serrated tussock, is a serious pasture pest and a declared noxious weed. If this is what you have then you need specialist advice.

I suggest you first contact Milton Rural Landcare. Their website has information on many weeds of the south coast of NSW and includes photos.

You will find more info on serrated tussock at the following links:

  • http://www.usyd.edu.au/publications/news/022106News/2106_tussock.html
  • http://www.regional.org.au/au/asa/2003/c/18/kemp.htm


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