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It's time to discover our 12,000 native species

The endangered Richmond birdwing butterfly.
The endangered Richmond birdwing butterfly. CSIRO/Wikimedia Commons

AUSTRALIA has more than 24,000 species of native plants. Compare this with the 1200 species native to England and you can begin to see what an extraordinary treasure our native flora is. About 85% of our native species are considered endemic, which means they occur here and nowhere else on the planet.

Australian native plants are a diverse group thanks to the extraordinary range of climatic conditions and soil types in this country. Plants have adapted to survive in environments ranging from coastal heath, through rainforest to the arid outback.

So wherever you are, there are many native plants that will happily grow in your garden. And plant growers have continued to propagate and trial different species, making a wider range available to the home gardener. Plant breeders have developed cultivars which are even more suitable for ornamental gardens thanks to compact growth habits and longer flowering times.

The variety of native plants now available means that you can use them to create just about any style of garden.

Lilly pillies (syzygium and acmena spp) are great for hedges and for topiaries. Daintree pines (gymnostoma australianum) would make a lovely formal conifer walk. Many of the rainforest shrubs such as native gardenia (atractocarpus fitzalianii, formerly randia fitzalanii) or golden penda (xanthostemon chrysanthus) are perfectly suited to a tropical garden with their lovely glossy leaves and showy flowers.

The ivory curl tree (buckinghamia celsissima) is a beautiful small flowering shade tree, its glossy green leaves complemented by lovely cream flowers. It grows to a height of 6m, making it quite suitable for a suburban garden or nature strip planting.

Native grasses including dianella and lomandra are attractive and hardy in most garden situations.

A bonus of native plants is the close relationship they have with native fauna. The Richmond birdwing vine (paristolochia praevenosa) is the primary source of food for the larvae of the vulnerable Richmond birdwing butterfly.

I planted a couple in my garden more than 15 years ago, and last year we saw our first beautiful butterflies. Nectar-laden grevilleas and banksias are absolutely irresistible to a large selection of gorgeous birds.

Lilly pillies and other dense, bushy shrubs provide safe haven for smaller birds.

If you're interested in learning more about Australian native plants, take a look at the website of the Australian Native Plants Society at anpsa.org.au. Another good source is Angus Stewart's website - gardeningwithangus.com.au.

Angus Stewart is one of Australia's leading native plant specialists, and you'll find fantastic articles and videos.

Topics:  australian flora native


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