Ditch the exotic plants this Christmas and deck the halls with these native species instead.
At this time of the year, we’re flooded with images of European pine trees, holly and poinsettia – but there are plenty of native species that make beautiful substitutes.
Here are seven of our favourites:
1. Sturt’s desert pea
Big, bold and bright, Sturt’s desert pea (Swainsona formosa) is the floral emblem of South Australia, and it makes a gorgeous alternative to poinsettia, the red-leafed Mexican plant that so many of us give and receive as Christmas gifts. Like poinsettia, Sturt’s desert pea is well-suited to pots so long as you plant it in a free-draining potting mix. Feed them regularly and you’ll be rewarded with lots of flowers.
Bottlebrush is flowering at the moment, and it makes a great table decoration, or a potted gift that can later be planted in the garden to provide a feast for nectar-loving birds. Scarlet bottlebrush (Callistemon rugulosus) and Flinders Ranges bottlebrush Callistemon teretifolius are ideal, as they are both native to SA.
3. Callitris pine
Also known as the southern cypress, the callitris pine (Callitris gracilis) is another SA native. It has dark green foliage and the classic pine tree shape, and grows well in areas with low rainfall and rocky soil, making it the perfect Aussie Christmas tree. Plant one in a pretty pot to bring indoors, or put one in the garden as a specimen tree. Just make sure you have plenty of space, as they can grow up to 15 metres tall in wetter areas.
4. Woolly bush
Woolly bush (Adenanthos sericeus) hails from Western Australia and is becoming accepted as a native Christmas tree alternative. It has silvery foliage and grows well in a pot, so you can bring it inside for the holidays. It also grows well outdoors and can grow up to 5m tall in warm, dry climates like Adelaide’s. It can be trimmed to mimic a classic pine shape and is sturdy enough to hold fairy lights and decorations.
5. Holly-leaf grevillea
As its name suggests, this grevillea (Grevillea ilicifolia) has spiky, silvery grey leaves that look like holly. Also known as holly grevillea or native holly, it is perfect for use in wreaths and table decorations that would normally use European holly. It is native to SA, Victoria and New South Wales, and grows well from seed to become a small bush of up to about 1.5m tall.
6. Christmas bush
Several different native plants are known as the Christmas bush. The SA version is sweet bursaria, (Bursaria spinosa), an upright, prickly shrub that is covered in white flowers in summer. The NSW Christmas bush (Ceratopetalum gummiferum) is probably the best known of the native Christmas bushes, with its masses of bright red flowers.
7. Christmas bells
Another NSW native, Christmas bells (Blandfordia nobilis) is a tufted herb that produces pretty bell-shaped red and yellow flowers on leafless stalks. Christmas bells grow well from seed, but be aware that you won’t get flowers until the third year.
You can find Australian plants like this at State Flora and other native nurseries. Or if you want something perfect for your local area but you don’t know where to start, get some advice from the team at State Flora nursery at Belair or Murray Bridge, or try the Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges Local Plant Selector tool.
Special shout out to Greening Australia for their advice in preparing this blog.
This story was originally posted in December 2017.
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