Friday, August 6, 2010

Ellangowan Turkey Bush

Eremophila deserti

Eremophilas, otherwise known as “emu bushes”, “turkey bushes”, “poverty bushes”, or even “fuschia bushes”, are deservedly popular Australian native plants. Their name, “eremophila”, means “desert-lover”, and they are indeed all very drought-hardy plants. Many have beautiful flowers in red, pink, white, yellow, or blue.

There are about 215 species of eremophila, and they have become popular in gardens here over the last 20 years. They grow particularly well on the alkaline soils west of Toowoomba.
Few of them are actually native to our own region. Here is one that is - though it’s also widespread over most of inland Australia. It is named after a local town on the Condamine River, and has comparatively modest little flowers so is rarely if ever seen in gardens. It does flower plentifully, though, and the fruits which follow are very popular with birds, so it is well worth growing. It would make a particularly good low hedge, flowering sweetly in winter, and making itself useful because of its “fire-retardant” tendency. (No, it won’t stop a big bushfire - but it won’t add to your problems by being highly flammable, either.)

It is also frost hardy.

These photographs were taken at Irongate two weeks ago.
You can see that it naturally forms a dense, rounded bush. Older plants get leggy, so optimum long-term management in a garden would probably include pruning - but not until the birds have had a chance to feast on the fruits. Where it is eaten by stock, it has shown that it coppices well.

Too Poisonous for Us?
Eremophila deserti is also known as “Ellangowan Poison Bush”.
Give a plant a bad name, and people, rather naturally, lose all desire to grow it!
Yet the its toxic effects have been restricted to stock which feed on its leaves - and are about equal to those of lantana. Most of the other eremophilas are probably also as toxic.
As with all these plants, “animals grazing quietly in the field eat the plant readily and apparently without ill effect” (Everist 1947). “Almost all recorded field cases of poisoning have been sheep and cattle travelling on stock routes” (Everist again). Animals in these conditions often succumb to poisoning from plants of many species which otherwise do them no harm. Droving leaves them tired, stressed, and hungry. They are often forced by hunger to eat plants which they would otherwise ignore, as all the more palatable feed has been eaten out by preceding stock. While of concern to drovers, the poisonous nature of Ellangowan turkey bush doesn’t seem to be something that need worry gardeners.

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