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A Few Proven Magnets

Leigh Murray

A few Australian native plants have proven to have a magnetic attraction for birds, butterflies and bees at both our home in Queanbeyan (near Canberra) and our newish holiday house at Tuross Head (on the New South Wales' South Coast). I've found that the most effective drawcards are those that not only have highly attractive flowers but also are long flowering.


Anigozanthos flavidus Eucalyptus leucoxylon
Anigozanthos flavidus, a red-flowered form (left) and Eucalyptus leucoxylon 'Rosea' (right)
Click the thumbnail or plant name for a larger image

Anigozanthos flavidus (tall kangaroo paw) must be one of the most powerful of all magnets for wattlebirds. We have 4 sizeable A.flavidus plants at Tuross Head (planted as tubestock a year ago), and when these plants flowered last summer we had birds repeatedly crossing back and forth over a busy road to get to the flowers. And what a sight it was: birds dangling from flowers at the ends of 2-metre stems (well clear of the half-metre high foliage). So far, neither of the hybrid kangaroo paws I've tried ('Bush Gold' and 'Bush Ranger', both of which have A.flavidus in their parentage) have had anything like the bird-attractive quality of the plain-vanilla Anigozanthos flavidus. The flowers of the hybrids certainly look more striking (with stronger, deeper colours) but they attract only the odd diner - whereas with the plain "Anigo flavs", it's dangling room only!

Eucalyptus leucoxylon subsp. megalocarpa is a humdinger of a tree at attracting birds. And it looks terrific too. This form (often available under the horticultural name "Rosea") has beautiful and abundant cerise flowers for many months starting in autumn and going right through winter into spring. Our tree at Tuross was planted less than 3 years ago yet it's already proving very attractive to birds. Throughout its long flowering season, Red and Little Wattlebirds pop back and forth all day and Eastern Spinebills zip in for quick snacks. Even when the tree isn't flowering, Crimson and Eastern Rosellas hold regular afternoon Happy Hour sessions in it, chewing the leaves and tittering.

Grevillea arenaria is another great bird magnet. One just came up beside our Queanbeyan mailbox, in bare rocky ground. This straggly and not very prepossessing plant (it had never been pruned until recently) has proven one of the best bird magnets we've got. Of all our many and various grevilleas, this one is "Top of the Pops". A prominent birdsound at our place each spring is a noise like the creak of a rusty gate, emitted by a Red Wattlebird that seems to spend almost all day every day in that straggly bush. Eastern Spinebills also fancy the flowers, and drop in for a feast whenever they get the chance. Our mailbox G.arenaria (which is now about 1.5m high and wide) is the oval-leaf form. It is frost hardy and very drought tolerant. It withstands the coastal conditions at Tuross (with strong, occasionally salt-laden winds), and it pulls in the birds there too.

Little Wattlebird   
Little Wattlebird   

Grevillea 'Coastal Glow' (G.barklyana ssp. macleayana x either G.asplenifolia or G.longifolia) is a great favourite with the birds. This shrub has been a raging success at Tuross and it also grows well in Queanbeyan (where it came through last winter's frosty minus 7s with nary a blink). 'Coastal Glow' grows quickly into a large shrub of about 3m x 3m. With plenty of tip-pruning, ours have already formed a dense screen at Tuross where they've proven very attractive to Wattlebirds and Spinebills - and last spring this bank of 4 'Coastal Glows' also attracted the only Noisy Friarbirds in the area - several of these wonderful characters were practically resident in the 'Coastal Glows' for weeks, sipping from flower after flower and chortling their dear little bald heads off.

Grevillea jephcottii is very popular with Crimson Rosellas. They nip off the flowers to get to the nectar. Wattlebirds and Spinebills love the flowers too. G.jephcottii forms a rather open, grey-foliaged bush of less than 2m x 2m, with inconspicuous greenish spider flowers that the birds adore.

Banksia spinulosa is an excellent bird attractor, in flower for months during autumn and winter. Wattlebirds and Spinebills are the chief diners, but rosellas visit occasionally too.

None of our Banksia ericifolia or Banksia integrifolia plants are big enough yet to have magnetic properties. But I've got high hopes that they will, because the mature plants on the golf course opposite our place at Tuross are heavily patronised by honeyeaters, and a B.integrifolia there has also been blessed with Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoos from time to time (I think they eat the seeds).


Westringia 'Wynyabbie Gem' (W.eremicola x W.fruticosa) has proved highly attractive to butterflies at both Queanbeyan and Tuross. A shrub of about 1.5 - 2m high with a similar spread, it is remarkably hardy to frost, drought and sea air. And it is unusually long flowering for a westringia. Unlike its parents, it bears its lilac flowers virtually all year round (in our gardens, it outperforms its parents in all respects.) To maintain a neat, dense appearance, it's a good idea to tip-prune 'Wynyabbie Gem' regularly; this also increases the number of flowers (a good tip-prune is positively inspirational!) which, of course, is better for the butterflies.

Phyla nodiflora is a tough, low, dense ground cover (often used as a lawn-substitute). Phyla attracts small grass butterflies as well as larger butterflies and moths to its pink clover-like flowers which are borne in summer and autumn. Phyla is frost and drought hardy. At our Tuross place, it is standing up well to foot traffic. (I've heard that it will even withstand vehicle traffic but can't vouch for this myself.)

A few plants that are often mentioned as attracting butterflies but which have not yet done so for me are Olearia phlogopappa, Helichrysum semipapposum, Pultenea pedunculata, and Hardenbergia violacea. (Graham Pizzey, the bird bloke, described this hardenbergia as a top class attractant. Perhaps it is butterfly-attractive in Victoria but not in New South Wales - some plants are like that.


Grevillea 'Poorinda Jennifer Joy' is a very attractive little hybrid grevillea (G.linearifolia x G.speciosa ssp. speciosa} which has beautiful pinky-mauve spider flowers almost all of the year, and the bushes are usually alive with bees. Grevillea sericea also attracts bees - but birds have shown no interest at all in either of these grevilleas.

From the newsletter of ASGAP's Wildlife and Native Plants Study Group, Spring 2001.


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Australian Plants online - September 2002
Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants