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Grass trees

Grass trees in Cultivation

 

Australian grass trees include the genus Kingia and Xanthorrhoea.  These iconic grass trees are endemic to Australia, and are not succulent plants at all. They are very popular in landscape design, especially when planted with cacti and succulents. (Interestingly in Europe, grass trees are sold as Australian succulent plants!) These plants are xerophytes so able to survive and grow in similar conditions to cacti and succulents and so it is understandable that there is confusion in the general public.

Unfortunately, grass trees also have a bad reputation for being difficult to grow, rarely flowering, then usually dying after several years in the garden. Therefore we would like to showcase a great examples of the opposite, of in fact-- how well they can look, grow and flower in a garden.

Ian Menkins, an amateur botanist from Queensland has been growing numerous grass tree species in amongst cacti and other succulents, successfully within a garden setting for about 30 years.The image below is only  part of his garden, however it does clearly show three very different Xanthorrhoea species, all flowering annually. (The larger specimen in the foreground only has the thick inflorescence stems showing). Behind the Golden Barrel Cactus Echinocactus grusonii at the far right of this image, is an unusuall blue-leaved species of Xanthorrhoea, which has at least 8 flower spikes present.

 

 

A SHORT INTERVIEW WITH IAN MENKINS:

How many grass trees do you have in your garden? 6 + 1 in a pot

How many species do you grow? About 4 species: X. johnsonii, X. glauca, X. australis (?) or latifolia (?), plus the blue one (unknown species).

How many years have you been growing grass trees? About 30 years.

Have any died? Surprisingly, none ever died. It is important to have good drainage, but also water them well for the first few years until they get their roots established.

Were they all seedlings or larger habitat plants? I recall 4 were seedlings: the blue one, the two glauca and the small australis (?). 3 were small habitat plants with the NSW permit labels and were all labelled X. australis, but I think only one might be that species.

Have you found any to be faster or slower growing than others? X. glauca is clearly the fastest, followed by X. johnsonii.

How many years did you have to wait before your grass trees first flowered? Grown from seed you can get flowers in 3-4 years. Pretty amazing really!

Do your grass trees flower every year for you? Yes, and very reliably.

Have you ever had seedlings come up? Never, despite seeing lots of seeds fall in the past.


The above images show Ian in part of his garden. The last picture clearly show how well and  regularly some of these grass trees flower for him. There are sixteen flower spikes in this image!

These next 7 images show a striking bluish Xanthorrhoea in Ian's garden that flowers prolifically every year. We have not been able to identify it as yet so in the meantime we are just referring to it as X. 'Menkins Blue'.


Ian frequently travels to visit and observe various species in their natural habitat, often consulting with senior botanists about their identification which at times have been confusing. Like many of us who sometimes struggle with the identification of grass trees, especially when encountered in habitat, Ian has been extra studious, at times with a lot of frustration, has decided to create his own 'Simplified Key' to the genus Xanthorrhoea. While this key was only ever intended for his private use, he has given us permission to share it with  those who are interested. It has proved useful to us! Why not try it yourself!

Simplified Key to the Grasstrees of Australia, by State or Teritory. Compiled by Ian Menkins, 2017.Adapted mostly from Flora of Australia

 

Apart from Ian Menkins' garden, work and key to grass trees, we are now seeking more pics, stories and garden settings of grass trees in cultivation. We want to publish and show others how wonderful and worthwhile these plants are. Do you have a garden pic or story you would like to share?

We are also pleased to be able to offer a special small publication devoted just to this topic:

click here Australian Grass Trees. Seeds of Xanthorrohea are also available in our eBay store link on the home page.

 


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