The House of Xanthorrhoea

Grasstrees Australia, in outer suburban Perth and online, “recycles” (removes from land which is being cleared and sells to people establishing gardens) Western Australian grasstrees (Xanthorrhoea preissii), Kingia australis, zamia palms (Macrozamia riedlei) and Western Australian Christmas trees (Nuytsia floribunda). The first and last of which I am very familiar with and love so much (you always know Christmas is on the way in Perth when the Christmas trees start flowering). All except Kingia australis are indigenous to the Perth area. A xanthorrhoea flowering in its natural habitat, a nature reserve near my house. It's probably an original plant and was never cleared.

Grasstrees Australia rescues all the above species when land is being cleared (eg. when properties are being subdivided, or more usually when outer suburban land is being cleared for housing, original vegetation is ripped out, and indigenous flora and fauna make way for bricks and tarmac. And yes, I have the blood of this on my hands because I live in a house just like everyone else). The nursery takes them to their site, ensures they are free from disease, nursery hardened for at least one year and have grown new roots. Local councils and landscapers transplant these species after land development and road building (this is done to great effect in many areas in and around Perth). Individual (rich) home owners are also able to transplant them to beautify their patch of sand. This is a great idea (and it’s very clever because while “eco-friendly,” it’s quite a money spinner) but the new owner of the plant has to tend it carefully when it arrives at its new home. Two xanthorrhoea in their natural habitat, a nature reserve near my house. They are probably original plants and were never cleared.

Xanthorrhoea has adapted to our harsh climate (unlike us recently-arriving people) and are able to survive fire and drought which are prevalent in Australia. The techniques they have evolved also allow xanthorrhoea to be (relatively) easily transplanted. When it’s transplanted, the plant will grow more roots, even if some of their roots were lost in the moving. There is a way to do it which ensures the plant will survive and thrive, so it’s best to leave this to the experts such as Grasstrees Australia. But once they’ve done the hard work and sold you the three hundred year old giant, you need to provide tender loving care for your new baby. A problem may arise because people think that as xanthorrhoea are drought tolerant, they don’t need to be watered. This is true for a specimen that’s been established for three hundred years and isn’t going anywhere but up (and down), but a newly transplanted xanthorrhoea isn’t a camel. Grasstrees Australia suggest about 50 litres of water once or twice a week during the dry months, October to May (are you jealous that Perth is sunny for that long!?), “making sure that the root ball and developing roots get thoroughly wet.” Grasstrees Australia also recommend, “plants of approximately 1-2 metres require about 30-50 litres of water per week” which will “result in grasstrees becoming more hardy and resilient to transplanting.” I’m guessing this means that once it’s settled in, the grasstree will start to need less water and become drought tolerant, because the nursery also states, “Once re-established, grasstrees will require very little maintenance.”

Near my house is a housing development. It was previously a high school and the land was divided and blocks individually sold for a lot of money because of the ocean views. I’ve been walking my dog through the streets of the development for two years and I’ve watched a lot of sand transform into quite a few monstrosities, some of which even have gardens (and the weed growth on empty blocks and transformations are ongoing). I do find some of the houses pretty and one in particular has a garden I love, but they are all big. Our society values a huge amount of personal space for each person, but I think a two story house, with too many rooms to count, is excessive for two people. Some of the houses have children, but because of the price of the land and the cost of building a house that size, I think they’re in the minority. I like to tell my boyfriend Michael that one particular house had its plans confused with a leisure complex. A xanthorrhoea transplanted to a house near where I live which subsequently died.

This leisure complex house is one of a number that has a newly arrived xanthorrhoea as a part of its landscaping vision. When I thought of writing this, I hadn’t walked past it in about a month and the last time I’d seen it, the xanthorrhoea had just taken up residence. I thought I’d better walk past and see how it’s settling in. Sad to say, it was dead.

Another house has been through two xanthorrhoea and then the house was sold. The new owners realised the folly of the previous owners and planted something else in the spot. (I wonder if the previous owners thought their land was cursed and thus felt the need to sell-up.) I also wonder if some of these xanthorrhoea deaths could be because of lack of water, or other “improper post-planting care provided by the new owners” ( Grasstrees Australia Warranty). I didn’t know until quite recently the amount of water a transplanted xanthorrhoea needs, and although the nursery informs their customers, life can get in the way of what you’re advised to do. (The house of xanthorrhoea death does have another xanthorrhoea, which even though sickly looking, still has a bit of green, so maybe it was just that metre square of land that was cursed.) These xanthorrhoea are in a garden near where I live. They could have been original plants or transplanted. As long as I’ve been walking past this house, they have been here. Maybe the fence makes them feel save!?

The moral of this story is: please do invest in indigenous flora and the future of the your area’s and the world’s biodiversity, but make sure the new home you provide is a loving one and remember to care for them as the experts advise.

Note: Grasstrees Australia has pics of their products for your viewing pleasure and even though these plants are not in their natural environment, the photography is a bit more professionally rendered than my happy snaps.

I wrote this with help from information generously provided by my friends at Nuts above Natives.

Most important of all: It is illegal for a person to pick, collect, remove, etc. indigenous species in Australia. The WA state government Department of Environment and Conservation issues permits and licences to allow people and groups (eg. Grasstrees Australia) to collect native plants and should be contacted if you want further information.


4 thoughts on “The House of Xanthorrhoea

  1. Kingia australis not native to the Perth area? Drive along Roe Highway turn onto the Tonkin Highway heading towards Armadale. You are now driving on Tonkin Hwy between Forrestfield on your left and Wattle Grove on your right. On your left keep an eye out and before you get to the Welshpool Rd East lights (that’s the left turn off to Lesmurdie), you’ll see the most amazing thing – huge broad fields of Kingia about five metres or so in height, interspersed with the Swamp Cypress (Actinostrobus pyramidalis/Callitris pyramidalis), another unrecognized Perth plant. It’s like something from another planet, and surely a precious, unique collection of plants. I defy anyone not to be amazed. Kingia also are found dotted around the hills up in Lesmurdie.

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