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Guide to Australian Native Plants

This Guide presents detailed information on a commonly encountered native plant genera and families – Acacia, Banksia, Grevillea, Callistemon, Eremophila, Leptospermum, Melaleuca, Kangaroo Paws and many others – including their the natural distributions, cultivation and propagation.

The guide also addresses some of the questions that are often asked about native plants, as well as:

  • Plant propagation methods
  • Nurseries and seed suppliers
  • Plant name changes
  • Plants for fire prone area
  • Native plants at risk
  • Exotic and native environmental weeds
  • Articles on native plants


Common Plant Genera & Families

Frequently Asked Questions

Although Australian native plants have been in cultivation for many years, there remain  a variety of misconceptions about successfully growing them in a range of locations.  The main reason for this is the tendency to consider native plants as a single group regardless of their places of origin. In addition, native plants belong to a range of different genera which may have vastly different requirements for successful cultivation.

These ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ attempt to answer some of the more common misunderstandings about growing Australian plants successfully.

Quite apart from the economic factor that smaller plants cost less, it’s commonly advised to use small plants wherever possible. However, this is mainly because smaller plants are generally less likely to become “root bound” by being kept in a pot for an extended period. Smaller plants tend to suffer less “transplant shock” and are more likely to be be quicker to establish than larger plants when planted out.

Of course, another benefit of buying small plants or even tubestock is that you can buy more of them! This means that you can plant groups of plants together, which is how many plants grow in nature. You can even achieve a multi-trunked effect by planting three or four trees in the one planting hole.

In areas where rabbits are present, the use of plastic tree guards is advisable. A couple of rabbits can defoliate small plants in a couple of nights. Make sure the plastic is anchored into the ground securely. Tree guards will also help to minimize plants drying out during hot, windy weather.

However, you don’t need to discount the use of larger plants. If you can be sure that the root system of the plant has not developed into a tight mass in the pot or if you are prepared to carry out some root pruning before planting, there is no reason why larger plants can’t be used. However, the large root mass of advanced pot plants means that they can easily dry out during a few days of dry weather during the warmer months – make sure that watering is not neglected at such times.

A useful tip for both small and large plants is to set a pot or tin (with holes punched in the bottom) next to each plant when planting – this allows hand watering so that water gets directed to the roots of the plants.

Some Australian plants tolerate pruning and some don’t but that’s true for plants from anywhere in the world. As a general rule all shrubby plants will tolerate light pruning to develop a bushy shape as they are growing. Pruning of mature plants can, however, present problems.

There are plants which can be pruned back to ground level and which will regenerate quickly by sending out masses of new growth…this is a technique sometimes referred to as “chain saw therapy”. Plants in this category include those which develop a lignotuber (a swelling at or below ground level from which new growth forms) such as many banksias, eucalypts, melaleucas and isopogons, to name just four. Others, including most callistemons and the popular Grevillea hybrids G.”Robyn Gordon”, G.”Honey Gem” and G.”Superb” also tolerate such treatment.

If in doubt, pruning back by about one third should not cause problems as long as there is plenty of green foliage remaining. Annual pruning directly after flowering is a sound rule to follow.

Many callistemons and melaleucas respond to heavy pruning. This Callistemon “Captain Cook” shows vigorous regrowth after being cut back to near ground level. Photo: Brian Walters
Callistemons (bottlebrushes) should generally be pruned after flowering with the exception of C.viminalis and its cultivars which have a weeping habit that can be damaged by pruning.

….usually only those native to dry areas and only when they have successfully negotiated the initial 12 months after planting out!

It’s often claimed that Australian native plants have a lower requirement for artificial watering than plants from other countries. While this is possibly correct as a general statement, it’s only true because the majority of Australian plants that are readily available are those native to the drier forests and woodlands.

Australian native rainforest plants are becoming more readily available and it would be unreasonable to expect these to be drought resistant. Surprisingly, though, many of these will tolerate extended dry periods but they undoubtedly perform better when adequate water is available.


The term ‘protea’ is used to cover a range of related plants in addition to the genus Protea, including Leucospermum and Leucadendron. Despite the frequent appearance of these ‘proteas’ in so-called “native” flower arrangements, they are not Australian plants. They are native to South Africa.

The genus Protea has given its name to a family of related plants (the Proteaceae) and there are are a number of Australian members of this “Protea family”. These include Banksia, Grevillea, Hakea, Macadamia, Telopea (waratah) and many others.

No again.

These are small leaved plants (often called ‘heaths’) with small to large bell-shaped flowers and, like the proteas, they are also commonly included in “native” flower arrangements. But Australia has no native ericas although at least one species (E.lusitanica) has naturalised and become a weed in some districts. Ericas belong to the plant family Ericaceae.

Australia has a group of plants which are also often called ‘heaths’. These are species in the genera Epacris, Styphelia, Woolsia and several others. These are closely related to the exotic heaths. In the past these australian heaths have been classified into a separate family, the Epacridaceae, but most botanists now regard them as also being in the Ericaceae.

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Plant Propagation

Many plants can be propagated easily using very basic tools and methods. It’s a lot of fun and definitely within the ability of any home gardener.

The main methods of plant propagation are growing from seed, growing from cuttings and division of established plants.    Grafting is also used by more experienced growers to enable some of the more difficult plants to be grown more widely.

Further Information


Australian Native Plant Nurseries

View a list of specialist Australian Native Plant Nurseries.

Australian Native Seed Suppliers

View a list of companies that supply seed of Australian native species, including local species suitable for revegetation projects.

Where to see Australian Plants

Throughout Australia there are many regional botanic gardens and other reserves where native species and cultivars can be seen.

Plant Name Changes

The scientific names of plants can change for a variety of reasons. We have compiled a list of some of the more common changes that may be encountered.

Australian Plants at Risk

In the 200+ years since European settlement of Australia, many native plants have become threatened for a variety of reasons, including loss of habitat and changes to fire regimes. In addition, over 70 species are believed to be extinct.

Australian Plants for Fire Prone Areas

Few, if any, plants are totally fire resistant but it is possible to select species for home gardens that, combined with good garden planing and maintenance, offer some degree of protection.

Environmental Weeds in Australia

Sadly, horticulture, forestry and agriculture have been responsible for many plants escaping from cultivation and invading natural ecosystems. While feral exotic plants cause most problems, some Australian native species have also caused problems.

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Articles on Australian Plants

Since ANPSA went online in 1995, numerous articles have been published in our web magazine ‘Australian Plants online‘. Although publication of the magazine ceased in 2009, the articles remain available and, despite their age, they continue to be a valuable resource. In addition, new articles have been added and more will be listed from time to time.