Thursday, February 11, 2010

Eastern Cottonbush

Maireana microphylla (Kochia microphylla)
Here’s a surprising little plant. It grows on our stony blacksoil slopes, and is a saltbush. Like most saltbushes it’s a frost and drought hardy thing, and a nutritious fodder plant for cattle and sheep.
The surprise is that the things which look like little pink flowers are actually the seeds! The bit that looks like petals is the “wing” of the seed.
The flowers themselves are tiny, green, and so boring that they come and go unnoticed.
Also like most saltbushes this cottonbush has been overlooked as a potential garden plant. This may be because it is usually found out in paddocks, where old, half-dead plants mix with the young and fresh, and all suffer a bit from being trampled by stock.
However, plants in a sunny paddock can achieve a neat rounded shape about 50cm high and wide. Quite formal-looking, really. Well-cared-for plants in the gardens are very good looking, and suitable for low hedges.
In these climate-challenged times, other saltbush species are finding new favour in the garden, this one is one which could join them there.
This plant, like other saltbushes, is being reported as one of the least flammable plants in bushfires. Some allegedly fire-retardant plants do need to be well-watered to do the trick, so saltbushes do have an advantage when it comes to practical planting in bushfire-prone areas. They really do never need watering even in the driest climates!
Saltbush fruits are usually great bird-attracters, and cottonbushes are no exception - and in this case the fine foliage also makes good bird-nesting sites.

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