Thursday, 24 November 2011

Try growing: mallee eucalypts

Eucalypts, or gum trees, are the quintessential Australian tree, but unfortunately most suburban gardens are not large enough to fit in a full-sized specimen. Majestic trees like the Sydney bluegum and blackbutt are best off growing in the bush or in local reserves.

But you can still have gum trees in your garden, and local ones too, if you choose a mallee rather than a massive forest tree. Mallees are a subset of eucalypts that tend to be relatively short, with multiple stems. They can also be pruned to have a single trunk if that is what you prefer (many nurseries sell them this way).

Species of mallee eucalypt that grow in the Illawarra include:
  • Yellow-top mallee ash (Eucalyptus luehmanniana): a stunning mallee with large grey-green leaves with distinctive yellow mid-rib and stalk. In flower it is spectacular. It grows to 5m and prefers skeletal sandstone soil.
  • Blue Mountains mallee (Eucalyptus stricta): Pretty mallee with glossy green leaves, to about 3m. Can be seen growing at the top of Mount Keira. Typically multi-stemmed, with trunks around 5-10cm in diameter.
  • Narrow-leafed mallee (Eucalyptus apiculata): very similar to the Blue Mountains mallee, but having small, narrow leaves. Grows to 2-3m, with very slender trunks (often no more than 2-3cm in diameter).
  • Whipstick mallee ash (Eucalyptus multicaulis): an elegant mallee that grows to 8m, with smooth white or grey bark and long narrow leaves. Grows naturally on skeletal sandstone soil, but can cope with poorer drainage.

Young Eucalyptus luehmanniana waiting
to be planted out in our garden
A little further north grow a couple of small gum trees that are well suited to Illawarra conditions:
  • Dwarf angophora (Angophora hispida): has distinctive new growth, red and covered in fine hairs. Grows to 5-7m.
  • Port Jackson mallee (Eucalyptus obstans): typical mallee form with several narrow trunks. Widespread in the Royal National Park, where it grows to 2-3m and looks more like a big shrub than a tree.
An Angophora hispida growing in sandy
soil in the Royal National Park
Mallees (and some other eucalypt species) have an unusual feature called a lignotuber, which is a lumpy mass at the base of the plant, which can resprout multiple stems after fire or other significant damage. One advantage of this is that, if the tree does grow too tall for your garden, you can simply cut down the trunk, and wait for a new one, or several, to grow. This process, known as coppicing, gives the characteristic ‘mallee look’, and can be useful in managing plants that need to be kept to a limited height.

Eucalyptus obstans - the classic 'mallee look'
To give you an idea of what’s possible, our small suburban garden includes nine different species of eucalypt, six of them local mallees, and twenty gum trees in total.

Other resources:

10 comments:

  1. I wonder if we have a mallee growing out the back of our place. The blossoms look like gum tree blossoms, but they are really big - and coral coloured. The gumnuts that form after are very large too. But, unlike the gums nearby the bark is very rough, and it doesn't have that characteristic gum tree shape. Can you recommend a way to identify my tree? I've looked at images of all that you've listed here, but none look like mine!

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  2. Hi Mandisri,

    Identifying eucalypts can be quite a challenge! You could try approaching your local botanic gardens with a sample of a leaf, a fruit and a flower - they may be able to help, particularly if it is a local tree.

    Without seeing samples I can't be much use to you either. But here are a couple of ideas.

    A common eucalypt in east coast gardens is the Red or Pink Ironbark (Eucalyptus sideroxylon). It has pink or reddish flowers and rough hard dark bark. You can see a description and photos here: http://anpsa.org.au/e-sider.html This may possibly be your tree.

    There is also a gumtree called the Coral Gum (Eucalyptus torquata) which is sold in nurseries, but it doesn't have rough bark. And it is from WA, so likely not the one you have.

    Hope this helps!

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  3. Hello again! Just wanted to let you know I've identified my tree - it's Corymbia ficifolia

    It's hard to determine online whether the variety is "wildfire", "sunset" or "orange" - there seems to be a lot of cross over with images provided by search engines. This is the most accurate image:

    http://www.metrotrees.com.au/treehandbook/page-listings/images/corymbia_ficifolia_flower.jpg

    I'd love to plant a few in my verge to provide shade, and I'd like them to be the same variety. Maybe I should just take some blossoms to a nursery? Are there any specific local nurseries you'd recommend for sourcing natives?

    Thanks again for you help!

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  4. Mandysri, taking some flowers to a nursery is probably the best way to work out exactly which cultivar you have got growing.

    The C. ficifolia cultivars are popular and fairly easily available at nurseries that have even a basic selection of native plants. Bunnings often has them in stock, and I've also seen them at the Leisure Coast Garden Centre (Fairy Meadow). If you're towards Sydney, the Sydney Wildflower Nursery would be more or less guaranteed to have them in stock.

    I'm sure there are other nurseries southside that would stock them too, it's just that I've not checked them out myself. You could always call up beforehand to check.

    Good luck - your verge is going to look fantastic!

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  5. Hi,
    Any idea where I can get some Yellow-top mallee ash (Eucalyptus luehmanniana) plants?
    The local nursery said they haven't had them in 12 months.

    Thanks

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  6. Hi Peter,

    We have been able to buy yellow-top mallee ash through two sources: the Sutherland Shire Community Nursery (http://www.sutherlandshire.nsw.gov.au/Environment/Plants/Sutherland_Shire_Community_Nursery) and Sydney Wildflower Nursery (www.sydneywildflowernursery.com.au) in Heathcote. The Sutherland nursery tends to have them in stock more often and also sells a range of sizes, from tubestock up to 9cm pots. Hope you find them soon!

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  7. Thanks for the info.
    Unfortunately Sydney Wildflower Nursery was the one I spoke to.
    They haven't had any in 12 months.
    I'll try to grow some from seed.

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  8. Peter, they should grow well from seed. Good luck!

    I also plan to start sharing a few plants through this website if I grow any, so if I get E. luehmanniana growing, it'll be listed.

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  9. Peter, just a quick update to let you know that the Sutherland Shire Community Nursery currently has E. luehmanniana in stock.

    All the best,
    Emma

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