by Julie McNeill
My sister’s eyes bulged and she gasped when she saw the price tag. Somebody had brought in a load of grass trees to the Fernvale Market, “From $40.00! They’d cost a hundred pounds and more back home!”
We agreed it would be the perfect present for my fussy husband, who is an avid native gardener. The stall holders showed certification to sell these living fossils to us and green-eyed, green-thumbed sister bought two.
It is always a marvel to spot the grass trees as we drive around the Shire of Esk. Xanthorrhoea species only grow in Australia and developed early in evolutionary stakes for flowering plants. They are very slow growing, but the mature trees we can thankfully see from our car windows are centuries old, the lifespan being 600 years!
Unfortunately they have been reduced due to careless land clearing and land development so when this is going to happen it is far better to transplant them than to destroy these awesome trees, although it is better to leave in their natural habitat.
Respect for this species is easy when one considers also the valuable use to humans. Without destroying the tree, Aboriginals ate the white, tender sections of leaf bases and roots, and collected the seeds to grind into flour. The resin at the base waterproofed their canoes, fixed their axe heads and spears. They also fermented the nectar to have a celebratory brew!
Early Colonists were also inventive, using the resin for their dwellings on floorboards and walls, stove polish, soaps, perfumes, incense in church and later in the manufacture of early gramophone records!
Check with the seller about where they come from before buying, then transplant into a well-drained site, water deeply once a week until established, maybe add a native plant fertiliser with low phosphorous.
Plant this Australian landscape icon. It is fire tolerant, frost hardy, and drought resistant. The flowering spear attracts honey birds and native bees and butterflies and provides a shelter for lizards. Of course the grass tree is agelessly stylish and a great investment for garden design.