Australian Native Plants as Christmas Trees
Start a new tradition! There are many native plants which you could use to give an Australian flavour to Christmas this year, and which could live on to enhance your environment for years to come.
Just starting out?
Buy a young plant and watch it grow with your family. See below for more tips.
If you want something larger straight away, many shrubs and trees are commercially available in large sizes. For the biggest selection, seek out a nursery which specialises in advanced plants.
What if it's too heavy to bring indoors?
With outdoor living areas so popular in Queensland, and Christmas falling in summer, why not take Christmas outdoors? Of course, you'll have to keep the presents inside until the last minute.
A permanent Christmas tree
A variation on the idea above is to plant your tree in the ground (provided it's suitable for the position), and just dress it up for Christmas.
Here we'll be looking at plants which evoke the look of the northern hemisphere conifers which we've come to associate with Christmas, but which are Australian in origin.
There are probably hundreds of native plants in the bush that could make good Christmas trees if brought into general cultivation. But here are a few ideas to get you started:
Australian Native Conifers
Among the best known are the Bunya Pine and Hoop Pine. Another species which is sure to create a lot of interest when it comes on the market is the Wollemi Pine. These giants are definitely not suitable for planting out in a suburban garden.
Some of the Callitris species might be more suitable for long term pot culture or use in the the ground.
In the years to come, perhaps some of the other lesser-known Australian native gymnosperms might be looked at by the nursery industry to assess their commercial potential in this regard.
You'll find a concise summary of the characteristics of conifers and the main Australian genera on the following page at The Australian National Botanic Gardens website: What is a conifer ?
This family contains the familiar Casuarina and Allocasuarina trees commonly known as she-oaks. Less familiar is Gymnostoma australianum from the Daintree rainforest of North Queensland. It has a conifer-like appearance and has recently become available in garden centres.
While the foliage of lillypilles isn't particularly like that of conifers, this group (which here refers to the genus Syzygium and its close relatives) nevertheless contains many Christmas tree candidates.
There are many on the market to choose from (see tips below). Disfiguring leaf psyllids are an issue with some lilly pillies, as they will spoil the look of the tree. For best results, select a resistant species/variety.
Select appropriate species and varieties. Some have a greater natural tendancy to upright growth and a conical shape than others.
The lillypilly illustrated at left already shows a natural tendancy to conical growth, which could be further enhanced by pruning
In the nursery, select a plant that is already showing the right shape. Sometimes plants are pruned prior to sale, but if you want an upright plant, look for an apical leader.
Prune to shape and to encourage bushiness. Maintain healthy and prolific foliage with sufficient water and fertilizer.
Dwarf forms will be most suitable for keeping in containers long-term. Rotate your potted plant regularly to ensure even growth on all sides.
Of course, you'll need to take all the precautions that you would with any Christmas tree or potted plant, including securing the tree against tipping over, preventing soil/potting mix getting on your floor coverings, and taking extreme care if you have to use water near electricity.
If you want to keep your plant alive for next year, you'll need to observe the normal rules of gardening as well. For example, if you want to keep it in a pot over an extended period, select a variety amenable to this form of cultivation (usually dwarf forms), and care for it appropriately.
If you're going to plant your tree in the ground after Christmas, be sure it is indeeed suitable for the position you select.
Down-under Christmas Display
by Barbara Henderson. (Some native plants that flower around Christmas time in Qld) Society for Growing Australian Plants Queensland Region, Inc.
More about Xmas trees in general and use of plants at Xmas (non-native):
History of the Christmas tree and modern commercial trade. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, U.K.
More plants traditionally associated with Christmas. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, U.K.
On other pages: