Thursday, May 8, 2008

Those Useful Matrushes

Lomandra species
These tough, drought and frost-hardy clumping plants are usually grown for their foliage. They have great potential for contributing to a garden picture, with their strong lines and texture.
Some have interesting flowers as well, with male and female plants having somewhat different-looking ones.
They are related to grasstrees and have equally tough leaves, very suitable for mat-weaving and making bags and baskets, and, of course, mats.
Most of us are familiar with the long-leafed matrush, Lomandra longifolia, which is so widely used these days in landscaping. It grows to a 1metre x 1metre clump of long green leaves, and needs no attention at all once established.
Isolated clumps make great fillers between shrubs and trees, rows (planted 50cm apart) make good garden edges or soil-retaining contours on slopes. Whole areas can be planted, at a rate of 6 plants per square metre, to form a patch of dense, weed excluding greenery. Used in tubs, they look good in formal gardens.
The spiky cream flowerheads produce a good perfume for a short time - stronger if they’re planted in the shade - but are generally not an ornamental feature.
This is such a useful plant, that its cousins are often overlooked. There are four other local native Lomandras, all worth seeking out.

Crowded-leaf Lomandra
Lomandra confertifolia
This is a completely different-looking plant. Even people who are familiar with matrushes might mistake it for grass, when it’s not in flower. The soft-looking, dense clumps of very narrow leaves grow to about a foot high.
This is also a popular landscaping plant, which actually creates a problem for those who wish to grow local natives. It is a very variable plant, so plants with blue-green leaves, longer leaves, more flowers, and so on have been brought into cultivation from various parts of Australia are fairly easily available, while our local plant might be hard to source.
It’s a slow-growing plant, but a good one for a low-maintenance, weed-excluding ground cover or garden border, if planted at 30cm intervals.

Wattle-flowered Matrush
Lomandra filiformis
Perhaps the neatest of a rather neat-looking plant group, this is a very good plant for formal gardens. Its neatly rounded clumps of very shiny, yellow-green leaves grow somewhat less than knee-high, and make a strong statement for their size. The flowers look rather like wattle blossoms which have lost their way.

Delicate Matrush
Lomandra laxa
Slender tussock, 30cm
This is a rarely-grown plant of rainforest edges. People planting matrushes are generally looking for tough weed-excluders and soil retainers. This is neither, but is a graceful plant with a dainty and elegant spike of pretty white flowers, well worth a small place in a garden.

Multi-flowered Lomandra
Lomandra multiflora
This little plant has the prettiest flowers of all the lomandras with the possible exception of L. laxa. They are quaint, brown and cream things, produced in generous bunches on the slender tussocks. I was surprised to find these specimens in flower a few weeks ago, as I thought they would have finished for the year.
Matrushes are long-lived plants.
They are host plants to a number of native butterfly species, so are highly valued by those environmentally aware gardeners who like their plants to be more than just pretty faces.


Ros Vandenberg said...

Hi Patricia, I love my Lomandra longifolia plants, we are starting a garden and they are the only thing I feel pretty confident I can't kill!! Am about to try to catch some seed from the female plant for the first time. The ball-like fruits are only just starting to turn a tinge of brown in last few days. I read somewhere to cut off the seed head when it is brown and put it in a paper bag, but timing is key as the seed balls can explode suddenly. Do you have experience with this?

Patricia Gardner said...

Hi Ros.
Ripe Lomandra longifolia seeds are approximately the colour of wheat, or perhaps a bit paler. It will really be obvious when they're ripe.
They don't explode, so much as drop. When they start to fall, cut off the heads and put them in a bucket. They just collect in the bottom.
Insects love them, so keep an eye on them and don't let them sit around. A few hours in the freezer gets rid of the insects and doesn't seem to harm them, but you might prefer just to plant them straight away. The seed only keeps for a few months, so if you want to grow them, it's best to get on with it.
I share your enthusiasm. They are great plants, and very good for wildlife.

Ros Vandenberg said...

Thanks Trish. I have managed to collect some seed so will look forward to giving it a go very soon. It makes sense once you see the plant drop its seeds for the first time. No crazy explosions as I was lead to believe! Really nice to have some feedback from someone who has propogated these native seeds before! Thanks again.