Taming the Wild Plants
Every working day I make the hour long journey from my home outside of Mount Molloy to Yuruga Nursery in Walkamin. It’s an easy drive with few curves, basically no traffic and rather monotonous scenery.
The majority of the trees along the way are various eucalypts, and she-oaks, with a couple of interspersed melaleucas. It’s quite easy to perceive the vegetation as not changing from start to finish. And it’s just as easy to evaluate the dry bush vegetation as having no potential for commercial cultivation. After all, it’s messy-looking. The gum trees are miss-shaped and are holding on to more than their fair share of dead branches. The melaleucas are still blackened from last year’s fires. And the wild she-oaks just don’t seem to possess any appealing characteristics whatsoever, not even symmetry. It’s so easy to group everything together and not give it a second thought.
Here’s the extraordinary part. If I was to tell you that along the stretch of road between Mount Molloy and Mareeba there are at least six species of wild Grevillea, you would probably be a little surprised. After all, Grevilleas are beautiful flowering shrubs which you and I pay good money for. How come we don’t notice them in the bush when we’re driving right past them?
Well, the problem is, most people just see the forest as a whole and ignore the individual plants that are just a blur while we’re doing 100 km/h. The other difficulty is that plants in the bush don’t necessarily look like they do in a garden. Don’t forget that in the wild, plants are subject to insect predation, droughts, bushfires, grazing, competition from other plants, and to top it off, they are growing in very low nutrient soils. Now just use your imagination, and picture your home garden being subjected to all the hardships that wild bush plants suffer every year, and you’ll realise it wouldn’t look any good either.
The good news is that the opposite is just as true.
If you were to take the same plant species you see growing in our local dry bushland and you look after them in a home garden they would look a lot better. They wouldn’t have scorch marks from bushfires. They would be healthier-looking due to improved soils and supplementary fertiliser. Their foliage would be neater, as they are safe from grazing. And insect damage can be minimised by human intervention. Dying or poorly formed branches can be removed, and they can be pruned to make them bushier. And with more reliable watering they will continue to produce more new growth for longer. All in all, they’ll just look a heck of a lot neater and healthier.
The truth is that many of those messy plant species you see growing on the road sides are exactly the same species sold by native plant nurseries, such as Yuruga, as garden plants.
For the local gardener this brings with it the big advantage of having plants which have evolved naturally to thrive in our tropical environment. The local animals such as honeyeaters also benefit, because you are growing the food plants they are accustomed to. And just for peace of mind you don’t have to worry about your plants becoming the next lantana or Singapore daisy, because they have existed here since before white-man.
(Published in Cairns City Life magazine, April 2008)