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

Australian Plants online

Short Cuts

Short items of interest about Australian plants selected from the many newsletters and journals published by member Societies of ASGAP.......

Short Cuts in this issue:

BulletYellow Flowers
Using yellow colours to provide a 'cheerful' feeling in the garden
BulletA Cut in Time
A non-pruner reforms his ways.
BulletBig Pots, Root Binding and Freshening Potting Mixes
Maintaining healthy mature plants in containers
BulletAnother view on Racosperma
Should Australian acacias be transferred to a new genus?
BulletTravelling with Cuttings
Tips on keeping cuttings fresh while 'on the move'.
BulletAre the Locals Good Enough?
Using indigenous plants in the garden

Yellow Flowers

Wattles are the first plants that people think of for yellow flowers but Warren and Gloria Sheather reckon there are others that should be considered as well.

Yellow is a cheerful colour and brightens our domestic environment, both indoors and outdoors. Spring is a most cheerful time of the year when the majority of the wattles are in flower. This cheerful feeling may be extended to other times by planting other yellow flowering native plants. The following are some of the "spring-extenders" we cultivate at Yallaroo in northern New South Wales.

Firstly we should mention three acacias guaranteed to provide cheerful blooms for many months. Acacia subulata, the awn wattle is one of our favourite natives. This medium to tall shrub has light green foliage and bright yellow flowers for many months of the year. Acacia deanei is a tall upright shrub with bipinnate foliage and pale yellow flowers that appear sporadically throughout the year. Flowering peaks in autumn and winter when we need as much colour as possible in New England gardens. Acacia iteaphylla, the Flinders wattle comes in a range of growth habits. Our specimen is about two metres high, with weeping growth habit and pale yellow flowers, which put in an appearance in late April and continue for many months. After flowering fairly hard pruning of these wattles, particularly A.subulata promotes more prolific flowering.

   Goodenia ovata Chrysocephalum apiculatum
   Two cheerful, yellow-flowered species
Goodenia ovata (left)
Chrysocephalum apiculatum (right)

Photos: Brian Walters; Australian Daisy Study Group
Click for a larger image

Two goodenias produce a bonanza of yellow flowers throughout the year. A couple of years ago we collected some cuttings from a bedraggled goodenia struggling for survival on a roadside in the Hunter Valley. This Goodenia decurrens has developed into a multiple-stemmed medium shrub. Each stem is covered with yellow flowers for many months. This plant is one of the most cheerful plants in our garden. G.decurrens always attracts attention from visitors to our garden.

Goodenia ovata comes in a number of forms. Some years ago we collected cuttings of a prostrate form somewhere in Victoria. Unfortunately the location is lost in the mists of antiquity. In our garden this form has developed into a dense, weed suppressing ground cover covering an area in excess of 30 centimetres. Yellow flowers cover the plant for many months.

Both of these goodenias propagate readily from cuttings. Some plants are damaged by frost but soon recover.

Chrysocephalum apiculatum (was Helichrysum apiculatum) has appeared in huge numbers since cattle and sheep were removed from Yallaroo. This daisy has been reported as a "very variable species" that needs revision. We have more than one form. All our plants reach a height of 30 cm., with aromatic foliage and small yellow button flowers but there the similarity ends. Some plants have green foliage and some grey. One grey-foliaged form suckers and forms carpets about one metre in diameter. Regardless of their botanic status they are all cheerful, hardy plants with long flowering periods.

Many Eremophila species are surviving and thriving in our gardens. We are fond of them all but Eremophila maculata 'Aurea' is a particular favourite. It was the first Eremophila we cultivated. 'Aurea' develops into a one metre tall shrub with glossy, almost succulent leaves and large tubular golden yellow flowers. It can be pruned quite severely. In common with most eremophilas, the flowers are full of nectar and are visited regularly by Eastern Spinebills.

From "Native Plants for New South Wales", Newsletter of the Australian Plants Society (NSW), October 2001.

[ Return to Index]


A Cut in Time

When it comes to pruning, many people just can't be bothered. Ross Doig explains how he has changed his ways.....

After being a confirmed non-pruner and an advocate of let nature take its course, I have been summarily forced to joint the snip-snip brigade.

After years of neglect I began to convert my wilderness into a native garden in mid-1991. The suburban block is in Turramurra which receives the highest annual rainfall in Sydney and is in the midst of a bluegum forest remnant. Name a mature height for any plant and then double it and you have an idea of growth patterns.

As a rabid propagator from cuttings I want to grow all my successes. Even my kindest friends in a charitable outburst would not describe my efforts as more than a collection of plants devoid of those aesthetic niceties which constitute a garden.

No prizes for guess where these remarks are leading - astounding growth, astonishing legginess, an intertwining of shrubs with anything small lost to view and the overlapping mass of foliage - overkill of the first magnitude. Typically Prostanthera incana, P.sieberi and P.incisa have been cut up to a metre twice a year to keep them below three metres. Alright for you gardeners out there who select by colour and texture, juxtapose rocks, logs and garden seat, whose paths stay as paths, and who remove and replant to maintain studied beauty. But this is a not the way of us collectors. We never pull anything out. We only add - which brings me to, as they say in computerland, the bottom line.

My days of allowing nature to run rampant are over, the secateurs have been sharpened, the books of how, when and why consulted and such willowy beauties as Melaleuca steedmannii reduced to one metre.

An immutable law has emerged which I already knew about but had ignored in spite of reading, hearing it from a range of lecturers and media garden programmes: "Tip-prune from the seedling stage and for most shrubs after flowering." As an example, when prostrate Grevillea thelemanniana puts out 2 to 3 metres a year something has to be done for the benefit of adjacent plants.

So my front semi-shaded garden at the start of winter has taken on the appearance of mini-alderman trees - you know those outside the front gate that receive the attention of various semi-government authorities.

The full sun area at the rear of the house has, except for odd goodies, succumbed to the rule of a metre up and a metre across.

My collectors maxim is now "smaller is better because more goes into less".

From "Blandfordia", the newsletter of the North Shore Group of the Australian Plants Society (NSW), July 1996.

[ Return to Index]


Big Pots, Root Binding and Freshening Potting Mixes

What do you do when a plant outgrows its container. As Jim Thompson explains, you don't necessarily have to plant it out into the garden.

Large pot plant   
This large pot of Waterhousea unipunctata may need repotting   

I once asked Robert Miller (leader of the Prostanthera and Westringia Study Group) how he kept the big prostantheras in large pots which constitute the Study Group's collection from becoming hopelessly root bound. He told me that once a year he takes the plant out of its pot and, using a sharp spade, cuts down beside the main stem on the side opposite where the name label is and removes the whole root system on that side, together with the mixture in which the roots are growing. The plant is then replaced in the pot and fresh mixture packed in to again fill the pot. The name label is then moved to the centre of the fresh mixture side to indicate next year which side has to be treated. In this way the problem of roots becoming too matted is overcome, while, over a two year period the potting mixture has been replaced.

The conversation reported above took place some few years ago and I have since used the technique with my own prostantheras in big or biggish pots without suffering any ill effects. I cannot answer for any other genera but there seems to be no reason why Prostanthera alone can withstand losing half their root system every year. Cautious folk may, however, prefer to experiment with one plant rather than the whole collection.

A word, in conclusion, about mixtures. Because the plants are well advanced, I tend not to be too fussy about mixtures. I normally use a light soil mixed with river sand for good drainage and with some beads of native plant Osmocote for nourishment. If the plant is lucky I will throw in some peat or cocopeat and a bit of potting mix. Robert's mixture was more conventional with sand,peat,and potting mix but no soil. Robert's recipe is probably better. Mine is cheaper.

From the newsletter of the Plants in Containers Study Group, September 1995.

[ Return to Index]


Another view on Racosperma

Most botanists agree that Australian members of the genus Acacia are significantly different from those found elsewhere in the world but they disagree on how this problem should be addressed taxonomically. Les Pedley of the Queensland Herbarium outlines the reasons behind his recent transfer of the Australian acacias to the new genus, Racosperma.

(Editor's note: For an alternative view on this issue see Bruce Maslin's article "Proposed Name Changes in Acacia" in the March 2003 issue of Australian Plants online and the adjacent sidebar.

Some members of the Society are concerned about the transfer of names of Australian acacias from Acacia to Racosperma. I have now made these transfers in a recently published paper. I listed 981 species of Racosperma. only ten of which do not occur in Australia. This necessitated changing the names of 702 species.

I have been a taxonomist long enough to know that botanists, both amateur and professional, dislike having to change names of plants, especially plants commonly cultivated and widespread in Australia. The changes will certainly be disruptive, but I believe the process begun in 1986 must continue. I have two main reasons for adopting this attitude. Restriction of the name Acacia to Australian species would be contrary to the spirit, if not the letter, of the internationally accepted code regulating the formation and application of botanical names. And, a factor often overlooked, countries that can ill afford to do so will have to change the names of about half their acacias quite unnecessarily.

Proposed name change for Acacia
An update
Bruce Maslin, Dept. Conservation and Land Management, Perth

Just before Christmas 2003 Les Pedley (Queensland Herbarium) published a paper in the journal Austrobaileya (vol. 6, no. 3, pages 445-496) in which the remaining combinations for relevant Australian acacias were made into Racosperma. My note here is to inform you that at this stage it would be inappropriate to adopt these Racosperma names, for reasons that I will now explain.

Last year Tony Orchard and I published a proposal to conserve the name Acacia with a new type (Taxon 52: 362-363, 2003). If successful then we will all be able to continue using the name Acacia for most Australian wattles. Our proposal, along with various other documentation, was formally submitted last December to the international Committee for Spermatophyta who will recommend on our case. We now await their decision. The International Code of Botanical Nomenclature recommends that while matters such as this are under consideration by the relevant committee, the status quo should apply (St Louis Code, Recommendation 14A.1). In other words, the Code in this case would recommend that we should continue to use Acacia rather than adopt Racosperma, pending a decision by the Committee.

I hope that the Committee will be able to make their (very difficult) decision before about the middle of this year. In the meantime it would be best to simply ignore Pedley's paper insofar as the generic name Racosperma is concerned.

Under the internationally accepted code, it is possible to restrict the name Acacia to the Australian species. The type species of the genus is, effectively, A.nilotica. Though it was first recognised as belonging to the genus in 1813, it was described by Linnaeus in 1753 (as a species of Mimosa) and was known to Miller when he described the genus Acacia in 1754. Miller did not adopt Linnaeus's binomial classification at the time so he cannot be considered to have transferred the epithet from Linnaeus's Mimosa to his Acacia. Though he look a broad view of Acacia, his concept could not have included any of the "Australian group" of species. Miller died in 1771, 18 years before the first Australian species to be formally recognised was described as Mimosa verticillata (1789). It would be bizarre if the type species of the genus Acacia should be changed to a species belonging to a group unknown to the man who described the genus. This is what is now proposed.

A formal proposal has been made to abandon the name Racosperma completely and to preserve the name Acacia for the Australian acacias. The type species would become Acacia penninervis. A nomenclatural committee of the International Association of Plant Taxonomy will consider the proposal. The committee consists of 15 botanists, six from Europe (two from the United Kingdom, one of them the secretary), four from North America (all from the United States), two from Asia (Japan and the Philippines), one each from Australia, South America and Africa. Ten assenting votes are required for the proposal to be accepted. I would be surprised if a majority of members of the committee does not hold views similar to mine and will therefore reject proposal. Unfortunately the committee can take as long as it likes to make a decision.

Of course the question of disruption is a serious one. In the March 2003 issue of Growing Australian, Dick Burns noted that many were relieved when the earlier Acacia/Racosperma shift did not eventuate. If the evidence for the proposed split had been objectively examined at the time, Racosperma could now be well established in botanical literature. The circulation of a number of dodgy arguments, some of which are still about, halted it. Some of them were: Racosperma might not meet the requirements of the code for proper publication: not enough was known about the internal classification of Acacia as a whole and perhaps more genera would have to be recognised in Australia; the abominable name was neuter, and so on. Most of them seem to have been withdrawn but, ironically, one of the main arguments now advanced for the rejection of Racosperma is that Acacia has been adopted in the Flora of Australia. The Acacia/Racosperma question should have been resolved well before the Flora had reached the editorial phase.

Preserving the name Acacia exclusively for Australian species smacks somewhat of jingoism, inverse colonialism, of a sort. Australia is in a great position. It is a rich country with a well educated botanical public that can absorb name changes with a minimum of fuss. We have a fine up-to-date account of Australian acacias (Vol. 11A and B of the Flora) which will be a standard text beyond our lifetimes, regardless of the outcome of any proposal. The large number of Australian acacias on a single land mass is a huge advantage. When the few naturalised introductions are excluded, the chance of being wrong when identifying an acacia from Australia as Racosperma is only one per cent. On the other hand, the rest of the world will not only have to abandon the name Acacia, but will have to accept transfers of species to at least two genera, both with unfamiliar names. The lovely flat-topped trees of the African veldt will be Acacia no more, but Vachellia. About an equal number of African species will go to Senegalia. The situation in Asia is similar though only about half as many species are involved. The situation in the Americas is worse. There may be about 200 species (the South American flora is not well known), slightly more than in Africa. Half will go to Senegalia, most of the rest to Vachellia, some to Acaciella, and a small residue to a genus, recognised recently but not yet formally described or named.

Name changes are inevitable but the monetary cost of a change to Racosperma has been greatly exaggerated. In a Sydney Morning Herald article of 9th November 2002, the cost of changing names on 40,000 herbarium specimens was estimated at $500,000. This is an impressive but extravagantly high figure. No one should be overly concerned about the change in gender. Racosperma dealbatum and Acacia dealbata are palpably the same, as are R.penninerve and A.penninervis. Slightly more than a quarter of the epithets have not changed at all. I cannot imagine that "racosperma" would ever be adopted as a common name, but the common names "acacia" and "eucalypt" will continue to describe the predominant elements in the Australian flora. The names of the great majority of Queensland species are already listed under Racosperma in the index to the Flora. While awaiting the outcome of the proposal to proscribe the name Racosperma we could perhaps consider changes of the names of other Australian plants. The sky did not fall in when large parts of Eugenia became Syzygium or Cassia became Senna or Eucalyptus became Corymbia. And I doubt that it will fall in when Australian acacias become Racosperma.

In fact, since all species of Racosperma have valid names in Acacia, anyone is free to disregard the results of recent molecular research and continue to use the name Acacia for all species, American, African, Asian and Australian.

From the newsletter of ASGAP's Acacia Study Group, Number 90, February 2004.

[ Return to Index]


Travelling with Cuttings

It's not unusual for enthusiastic plant propagators to collect cuttings wherever they go - but how to keep the cuttings alive while travelling? Maria Hitchcock has some suggestions....

I got this idea from Margie Bamett and have adopted it as a standard method for travelling with cuttings. It is also an excellent method for sending cuttings through the post.

   Bagof cuttings

You will need a packet of clear Snap-lock resealable sandwich bags. I like 'Glad' ones because they have a white strip across them. You will also need a laundry marker pen. Alternatively, you can slip a label inside the bag with the cuttings. I use a 6B pencil to write on labels - they outlast any marker pen and can be erased and re-used. The bags can also be washed out and re-used.

It's also a good idea to take along a little spray bottle and lightly spray your cuttings when you put them in the bag. This isn't necessary if the cuttings are collected during cool weather or in the early morning. You can fit about 10 cuttings in each bag. Squeeze the bag lightly to expel air and press the raised ridges to seal the bag.

I usually write the name of the plant on the bag before putting the cuttings in. We always travel with a foam broccoli box, complete with lid, and put the bags in that. Those cooler bags that you can buy these days are also good, or an 'Esky' if you have one. In hot weather, you could even put a bag of ice in the box to keep the cuttings cool.

If you want to bring cuttings to a cuttings swap or to a Society meeting, this is an excellent way to bring them. There is no need for handling or labelling by the recipient and the cuttings will stay fresh for far longer and strike more readily.

The method also ensures that the recipient doesn't lose the name of the plant. Please put your own name on the bag as well so that people know the origin of their cuttings. Its a good idea to get into the habit of writing the source on every label. We wouldn't have the confusion with names and origins of plants that we have now if everyone followed these few simple tips.

From the newsletter of ASGAP's Correa Study Group, December 2003.

[ Return to Index]


Are the locals good enough?

Can an attractive garden be created using predominately (or solely) those plants that are native to the local area? Diana Snape examines the the pros and cons of an indigenous garden.....

It is fascinating how many of us lack confidence that a sufficiently beautiful garden can be created using just the local plants. I think there are several reasons for this and they re not unreasonable.

The first and probably the most obvious is that our mental image of the garden we wish to create may indeed be one that could not be created with local plants alone, or even predominantly. Our starting point is then not the indigenous plants and their qualities, but the particular vision of an Australian garden we wish to achieve, incorporating many of the beautiful Australian plants we admire. For a simple example, we might want a garden featuring shrubs with orange-red flowers and these may be scarce or missing altogether in the local scene (it's interesting to compare this with the attitude of all those Australians whose vision is still of an English style garden, which cannot be created using Australian plants - unless that vision is highly modified).

A slight change in approach could alter our perception. If we get to know the indigenous plants and recognize their virtues, we could use as many as will fit into our grand vision (which may itself be modified to use more). Of course it depends on where we live, as the range and variety of local plants available can vary greatly. It depends too on knowing which plants are indigenous to the area. In a highly altered environment which has not been much investigated or studied, that knowledge may be hard to come by, especially for the less conspicuous plants such as ground flora. If we are also concerned about provenances, the availability of seed or cuttings of many species may well be low and access to the required material limited.

It's partly also the attraction of rare or unusual plants from distant places in Australia, and the challenge of growing these successfully. When in Western Australia, I found it fascinating to see some plants from the eastern states featuring in street planting and nurseries, while we're so keen to grow their plants here in the east! It makes one think. Perhaps we still want our gardens to be distinguished by having plants that are noticeably different, rather than the locals that anyone could have. On the other hand, it would be possible and sensible in every area of Australia for local plants (trees, shrubs, groundcovers, climbers, grasses) to be grown as a basis, in streets, parks and public gardens as well as private. After that basis is established, helping to create a sense of place and maintaining all those plants in cultivation in the areas where they belong, those exciting plants from other places could be introduced.

One significant reason for wanting to grow plants from elsewhere is that the range of plants that once grew in the area where our houses are built may not now be suitable for the changed conditions. For example, there may have been woodland, with a predominance of medium to large trees and a relatively limited selection of understorey shrubs and other plants. In a small suburban garden such trees are likely to be inappropriate - if they are grown there is room (and sunlight) for little else. It's fine for us to sacrifice our own sunlight, if that's our choice, but neighbours may not appreciate its loss. The understorey shrubs and other small plants may be attractive as part of a total bushland scene, but may not be 'at home' without their canopy. On their own they may lack balance, or even sufficient interest and variety to be accepted as the whole garden. This may also depend on how far afield you allow yourself to go for your 'locals', which of course can change in just a few metres with a change in soil type, contour, moisture level or shelter.

It's really part of a more general problem. Study any patch of bush or natural landscape the size of a small suburban block (and these are getting smaller), and consider whether it, on its own, would make an attractive garden. It may, of course, but its beauty will often lie in the overall scene, the total environment of which it is an integral part. Neither can you live in 'the bush' without changing it; intrusion into a wilderness area means it is no longer wilderness. A garden ideally needs to distill or extract the essence of what it is that makes that bush attractive, and I think this is one challenge of using just indigenous plants. It's a matter of selection and placement, of proportion and balance.

The most significant challenge is in the design, whether to achieve a naturalistic, formalistic, formal or eclectic garden. So far most indigenous planting has been carried out to revegetate areas, often on a broad scale using direct seeding. Here 'design' is limited to choice of the species for use in designated areas. On a smaller scale, naturalistic gardens have been created in a somewhat similar way. Only recently there has been interest in using indigenous plants in more formal gardens and it will be fascinating to see what is achieved in this very different design mode. Obviously the range and potential of gardens of indigenous plants throughout Australia will be gigantic - far greater than the enormous range of separate plants! Even in any one locality, different selections of its plants may be combined in a myriad of different ways.

You might want to both follow a certain design concept in a garden and give indigenous plants a "fair go'. One approach is to look first at the indigenous plants, of provenance as close to home as possible, to fill a niche or provide a design element. If no suitable one is found (or can be obtained) look further afield, first in the general region, then the State and finally all over Australia (or elsewhere). There will always be constraints, especially for gardens totally composed of strictly indigenous plants, but I think we have hardly begun to explore the possibilities.

From the newsletter of ASGAP's Garden Design Study Group, November 1995.

[ Return to Index]


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

Australian Plants online - March 2004
Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants