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Cultural History of Native Plants
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Australian Christmas Plants

A number of Australian native plants have become significant as 'Christmas plants' in various parts of Australia. This is usually reflected in their local 'common names'.

The use of native plants as Christmas decoration last century can be seen from illustrations in the newspapers of the times.

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A boatload of Christmas Bush (Ceratopetalum gummiferum) being rowed towards Sydney for sale in the markets [Sydney Mail 23 December 1882]
'Christmas Belles' the caption of an illustration of young ladies collecting Christmas Bells (Blandfordia spp) from the Illustrated Sydney News - Christmas Issue 1886.
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Tree Ferns (probably Dicksonia antarctica) were also popular as Christmas decorations, as seen in the illustration by Julian Ashton of a young lady selling fern fronds titled 'Christmas is Coming' from the Illustrated Sydney News 20 December 1879.

Christmas Bells

New South Wales

    click to enlargeBlandfordia grandiflora (Blandfordiaceae) Liliaceae
    (Syn. B. flammea)

    A tufted plant with grass-like leaves to 50 cm. Flower spikes to 50 cm with up to 10 large bell-like flowers, which vary from pure yellow to deep red with yellow tips. Flowers usually occur in summer but occasional flowers appear at any time of year.
    Distribution: NSW, Qld.
    Propagation: From seed.
    Cultivation: A sandy soil with high water table is recommended for commercial production of blooms, but plants will flower in a rockery provided that ample water is available at all times. A full-sun position is also important.

    Photo: Ron Hotchkiss © ANBG, A 5442

    click to enlargeBlandfordia nobilis (Blandfordiaceae) Liliaceae

    Similar to former species but generally smaller. Flowers appear in summer; always red with yellow tips and cylindrical rather than funnel-shaped.
    Distribution: NSW.
    Propagation: From seed, flowers produced in third year.
    Cultivation: Needs well-drained position in full sun or part shade.

    Photo: Denise Greig © ANBG, A 6952

Christmas Bush

New South Wales

    click to enlarge Ceratopetalum gummiferum Cunoniaceae

    Erect shrub to 5 m high by 1.5 m diameter with light green, trifoliolate leaves with lanceolate, toothed leaflets. Terminal sprays of white star-like flowers occur in late spring followed by beautiful reddened, swollen calyces in summer.
    Distribution: NSW.
    Propagation From seed or cuttings.
    Cultivation Needs well-drained soil. A sunny position is preferred for good flowering. Propagate from clones, which produce the best colours. A fine feature plant and an excellent cut flower.

    Photo: © M Fagg ANBG collection, A 2799

Christmas Bush


    click to enlargeProstanthera lasianthos Lamiaceae

    Variable shrub or small tree, from 2 m to 10 m high. Often has a compact habit when in shrub form. Leaves are lanceolate to ovate, to 10 cm. Flowers in terminal sprays, white, pink or mauve, occur in summer.
    Distribution: Qld, NSW, ACT, Vic, Tas.
    Propagation: From cuttings.
    Cultivation: Probably the most adaptable species. Tolerates heavy shade or full sun. Fast growing. Useful as a screen plant. A cultivar with variegated leaves is known as P. lasianthos ÔMint IceÕ.

    Photo: © M Fagg private

Christmas Bush

South Australia, Tasmania

    click to enlargeBursaria spinosa Pittosporaceae

    Erect, thorny shrub to 3 m and often taller. Dark green, obovate, shiny leaves to 2.5 cm. Masses of white flowers cover bush in late spring and summer, followed by attractive brown fruits.
    Distribution: all States except WA.
    Propagation: From cuttings or seed.
    Cultivation: A very hardy plant that will grow in almost any situation. Fruits are useful in floral arrangements. Subject to scale attack in some areas.

    Photo © M Fagg, AU 04/097

Christmas Orchid


    click to enlargeCalanthe triplicata Orchidaceae
    (Syn. C. veratrifolia)

    Evergreen terrestrial orchid. Soft, obovate leaves to 90 cm. Showy white flowers borne on erect spike to 150 cm in summer.
    Distribution: Qld, NSW, South-east Asia.
    Propagation: From seed or by division.
    Cultivation: Readily grown in heavily shaded, moist but not badly drained position in sheltered, warm garden. Excellent pot plant.

    Photo: M Fagg © ANBG, O 394

Christmas Tree

Western Australia

    click to enlargeNuytsia floribunda Loranthaceae

    Parasitic tree to 10 m with variable foliage. Brilliant yellow flowers are profuse in summer.
    Distribution: WA.
    Propagation: From seed or root cuttings.
    Cultivation: Very difficult. Success has been achieved in Perth in raising this plant to flowering stage. Young plants are also growing in the eastern States. As the plant is partially reliant on a host plant for nutrition, grasses and strawberries have been used as companion plantings. Further work is required to fully understand the correct cultivation of this worthwhile species. Needs full sun and appears to be frost resistant.

    click to enlargePhotos: F Humphreys © ANBG, A 8940, A 8942

Photos from the National Plant Photographic Index, ANBG.

Text extracted from Australian Native Plants © John Wrigley and Murray Fagg (1996)


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