Thursday, May 28, 2009

Narrow-leafed Orangebark

Denhamia silvestris (Maytenus silvestris)
This little plant, on the rainforest edge beside the track at Ravensbourne, is fruiting its heart out, despite being only knee-high.
It does get larger, but rarely much more than waist height, and is a very useful little plant for gardens. It’s natural environment is in wet Eucalypt forests on our redsoil. It doesn’t seem to mind root competition, and seems happiest where it’s shaded for part of the day.
With much shade it can get leggy, but it bushes up well with an annual prune. This can stimulate it to sucker, so it can get quite dense.
For best growth it likes a mulch of leaf litter.
This is one of the dry rainforest plants that can be bought at the Crows Nest community Nursery, one of our best sources of local native plants.
It is open on Thursday mornings, and it’s best to ring Steve Plant in advance (0417 193 665), just to make sure, before you drive all the way out there.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Strychnine Tree

Strychnos psilosperma
Here is some very pretty fruit, on a very pretty local plant
It is an attractively shaped small tree.
Pity about the poison.
The fragrant white flowers which appear, in compact bunches, in spring, are followed by these ornamental fruits in autumn. Occasionally there are pairs of spines at the bases of the leaves, but I couldn’t find any on this specimen, growing at Gowrie Junction.
Unfortunately, all parts of the plant are probably as poisonous as the plant's name suggests. I don’t think it has a future as a garden plant.
But plants like this have a right to survive, too, and they remind us of the importance of preserving some wild places where they can do so.

Piccabeen Palm

Archontophoenix cunninghamiana
The piccabeens are creeping up the hill, at Ravensbourne.
The seeds must have been appreciating all the wet weather we’ve had this summer, because the seedlings are coming up in their thousands in parts of the forest where there are very few mature adults. So we can see the forest in the National Park, which I’m told was logged will bulldozers in the thirties, slowly building up to the mature rainforest it wants to be.
Piccabeens have been given this name in Queensland because it was the name used by the aboriginal tribes in the Brisbane area. Further south, another native name, “bangalow palm” is preferred.
When mature, Piccabeens produce huge bunches of lilac flowers followed by bright orange fruits, which are eaten by birds. The heavy spathes open to reveal the flowers, and then fall off. These were once used as water containers, and were called “pickies” by Brisbane aborigines. Their potential for ornamental use in a water garden is obvious!
Piccabeens are our only large local palm, and can grow to 25 metres in sheltered gullies. They are resistant to light frosts, and drought hardy once established, which makes them the best choice of palm for a local garden.
They look their best planted in multiples. If you are prepared to nurse them through their first few years, they will reward you with a “rainforest look - perhaps planted with other drought hardy rainforest plants such as celerywoods (Polyscias elegans), black beans (Castanospermum australe) and lacebark trees (Brachychiton discolor).
Fast-growing plants all, and all able to withstand light frosts, these are good starter plants for a rainforest garden in the Toowoomba district.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Blue Ginger

Alpinia caerulea
These ginger plants are in fruit at Ravensbourne at the moment. We rarely see the local species in gardens, which is a pity, as they are very hardy plants, with ornamental leaves and fruits. The purple and white flowers, though pretty enough, and fragrant, aren’t showy enough to out-compete beautiful flowers of the imported ginger species in any popularity stakes.
These blue-fruits will last a long time on the plant (unless eaten first, by you or by a bowerbird). They have very little flesh, but what there is has such a good flavour that it’s well worth sucking the seeds for it. (Do be responsible, though, and don’t eat any unless you have first grown them yourself)
The seeds themselves are a useful spice, tasting much like cardamom, and can be used (crushed) to flavour foods. The tender growing ends of the roots have a mild flavour, not nearly as strong as commercial ginger root, and can be used as a cooked vegetable. The leaves are also useful in the kitchen, for wrapping food for cooking
Our local gingers are clumping plants, somewhat above waist-height, suitable for growing in dense shade (including indoors), and under trees. They have been largely supplanted, for garden use, by a northern form of the same species which has red-backed leaves and is less sun-tolerant. Our locals can be grown in almost full sun, especially if they’re given good thick mulch to keep the roots cool.
A well-grown plant might have some 30 stems. For those who dream of a simple life in a thatched hut, these are suitable plants for roofing.
They are frost tender.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Yellow Pittosporum

Pittosporum revolutum
What lovely, fat fruits this plant has. They are bigger and wartier than those of other pittosporums, and have spent months looking attractive as they have ripened from green. At last they have burst open, and the seeds are ready for planting, so I can grow more of these rewarding plants.
They are smaller shrubs than the other pittosporums, rarely getting to more than head-height. They have shiny dark green leaves, and make good screen plants.
A friend has his own name for the plant - “hairy pits” - a reference to its softly hairy new growth, another attractive feature.
The plants are said to be iron-hungry, but I find they show no signs of deficiency on my snuffy red soil. I have found them to be drought resistant - mine were planted three years ago, and are almost to shoulder height, despite having been given no water after the first few months of their lives.
They are understorey plants and I put them in under taller trees, where they haven’t had to cope with more than light frosts.