Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ruby Saltbush

Enchylaena tomentosa
Saltbushes are such useful plants, and these family members are no exception.
Like most saltbushes, they are drought and frost hardy. They can grow in nutritionally poor soils, and in soils damaged by salinisation.
They have fruits which can be eaten raw. They are quite tasty, sweet, and rich in Vitamin C. Eat them straight from the bush, or use them as a pretty garnish for rice dishes, meusli, or salads.
The plant has salty leaves which are valued as high quality stock fodder, but they can also be eaten by people, providing a good source of Vitamins C and E. There are better tasting vegetables, but in times of vegetable scarcity saltbush leaves have been valued for their ability to stave off scurvy. The quantity of salt they contain varies, depending on the amount in the soil where they grow. They need to be cooked, and boiling them briefly also removes much of the salt.
Nowadays we would throw this salty water away, but early settlers and explorers needed a source of salt, both for their health, and for preserving meat. The salt from saltbushes was valued!
In good garden soil, given a bit of care from a gardener (including some pruning), they can be beautiful plants. They have blue-grey leaves, and bright fruits for a period of many months in summer and autumn. There are, broadly speaking, two local forms; the one with ruby-red fruits, which tends to be a dense ground cover, about 1m across and 25cm high; and an orange-fruited form, which more upright and has orange fruits. However fruit colour varies considerably within our region, and a selection of these plants can provide a multicoloured show.
All saltbushes are fire-retardant. Where fire is a possible threat to homes, saltbushes could be a better choice for a ground-cover in the garden than the popular, but flammable, wood-chip mulch.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Golden Hollywood

a green fire-screen?
Auranticarpa rhombifolia (Pittosporum rhombifolium)
These little trees are looking magnificent all over town at the moment. As one of the few local natives that have been planted as street trees in Toowoomba, they justify the faith of those who made the decision.
Street trees have a very tough life, so anything that can look good in those circumstances is definitely a winner as a garden plant.
Hollywoods are fast-growing trees with a tall, narrow growth habit. While they can be grown as nice little shade trees, their dense, dark green foliage reaches almost to ground level if they are left untrimmed, making them wonderful tall screens for a space only a 3-4 metres wide.
For a good privacy screen, plant at 2m apart for a good screen, and tip-prune when young for extra bushiness.)
Their roots will seek out water, so they should be kept well away from underground pipes.
They flower profusely in spring, attracting insects of all kinds (and the nesting birds, no matter what their normal diet, make use of the extra protein that this insect feast provides, at this busy time).
The bright fruits ripen after Christmas, and can last right through till next spring, opening to reveal the black fruits which birds also love.
They are drought resistant and hardy to light frosts. Their favourite soils are the red and black basalt soils.
And will they save your house from burning down?
Well, perhaps not in a fire such as we’ve seen recently in Victoria - so don’t stay at home when you ought to be evacuating!
However, they are hard to set alight, and do make a good spark-catching screen, so would be a very good choice of plant in a fire-prone area. They are certainly a much better plant, all round, than the highly flammable introduced cypresses, which are popular as screens in this district.