Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Valiant Warrior

Xanthorrhoea species
When it comes to attack by fire, grasstrees are experts at defence. This fellow has been through quite a battle, as you see, but was still carrying his spear!
Note the little tuft of green on his crown - he’ll be as beautiful as ever in a year or so - perhaps even more beautiful. The blackened trunk which grasstrees acquire after burning enhances their good looks.
There is a story that burning causes them to grow more quickly. Someone I know tried it, and decided it made no difference, so I’m not prepared to take any risks in my backyard.
There is also a story that grasstrees grow extremely slowly - just an inch every hundred years. I’ve had less faith in the theory since I discovered that it was based on a specimen growing in the Edinburgh botanic gardens - hardly the ideal climate for finding out the optimum growth rate of one of our local plants!
These specimens photographed in a railway cutting near Benarkin had obviously been born after 1913, as they were growing on the cut faces, and that is the date that the railway was built. You can see that they have been growing at a good speed, despite the complete absence of any care from a gardener, since then.
You might recognise the plants in the photo below, which can be seen from a walking track in the Bunya mountains. We now think of this sort of rocky hillside environment as being typical for all grasstrees - and indeed it is, for some species.
These plants at the Bunya Mountains are the “white grasstree” Xanthorrhoea glauca. Unusually,  species is also very much at home on the blacksoil plains, something which surprised the explorer-botanist Ludwig Leichhardt.
Sadly, as with most of the native plants which grew on this prime agricultural land, few specimens remain in this habitat, but the knowledge that they grew there is useful to us, when choosing plants for a black soil garden. This is the species to use.

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