Saturday, April 4, 2009

Fairies’ Purses

Bursaria spinosa
This under-appreciated shrub is one of Australia’s most widespread native plants, growing from Queensland to Tasmania and South Australia.
We usually see it as a dense, prickly roadside bush, which provides good shelter and nesting sites for small birds, and becomes smothered in fragrant, white flowers from Christmas-time onwards. In some areas it is known as “Christmas bush”. It also goes by the names of “native blackthorn” or “prickly pine” - but most people simply call it “Bursaria”.
There are still some flowers about, but most of the bushes are now covered in tiny brown seed-capsules, which delight children as they contain little black seeds, like coins in a purse.
The plants we see may have roots which are much older than the visible parts of the plant, as this is one which regrows after bushfires.
Left alone, those plants have the capacity to become 10 m high trees, which outgrow their tendency to be prickly - but they get there very slowly. The flowers are very appealing to butterflies, and a favourite with native bees.
They would do very well in gardens - probably looking prettier than the tough old cattle-munched specimen at left.
Bursarias are known to have a lifespan of at least 60 years, but it is probably much longer. Ideally gardeners would plant them between faster-growing, shorter-lived garden species.
These are trouble-free plants, hardy to frosts and droughts.

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