BUSTING THE MYTHS: Myth #4 Native plants are shortlived

Eucalyptus cypellocarpa (Mountain Grey Gum) in Kangaloon with an 8m girth. Still going strong (even with a forked trunk)!

This myth really irks me! Wherever I go I hear the same old, same old – that native plants are short-lived. Yet, in front of my eyes I constantly see beautiful 400 year old Eucalyptus; Wattles that are over a hundred years old; Paperbarks that have seen the centuries pass by, along with Banksias, Bottlebrush and Tea Trees that have survived droughts, floods and fire.

We have more species of plants compared to 94% of the countries on this planet. Australia is one of only 17 “mega-diverse” countries in the world with extraordinarily high levels of bio-diversity. Collectively these 17 countries are home to around two-thirds of the worlds bio-diversity.

All countries on this planet are home to both short-lived and long-lived plants. Given our extraordinary abundance of plant species if we are naive enough to continually choose short-lived species from this palette then we can only have ourselves to blame. Another factor to consider when determining longevity of plants in our landscapes is how well they are suited to the environment into which they are being planted. Australia has such a diverse range of environments and soil types that once again if we are naive enough to choose plants from environments dissimilar to our own then we can only blame ourselves for plant failures in our landscapes.

Acacia melanoxylon – Blackwood. A long-lived wattle that has fire retardant foliage that is excellent for windbreaks, shade and shelter trees, along with useful timber for furniture making or firewood.

The genera that have probably contributed most to labelling native plants as being short-lived are Acacia (Wattles) and Grevillea. Acacias have around 1000 species and Grevilleas 260. Most of these are short-lived species but they also contain some long-lived species. Both of these genera have evolved to regenerate quickly in harsh environments prone to drought and fire. 

Grevillea are probably the worst offender when instilling the belief that native landscapes are short-lived. Australians have a love-affair with the bountiful and beautiful flowers that are well known for attracting our world-renowned nectar feeding birds. The tendency has been to over-use them in our landscapes or we succumb to the temptation of large-flowered Northern varieties when landscaping in South-East Australia. I can see no problem when using these shorter lived species within our landscapes as even exotic gardens are well-known for having both long-lived and short-lived plants within them. As most landscape designers understand the longterm functionality and beauty of gardens is determined more by the placement of long-lived trees and shrubs rather than short-lived 7 day wonders.

So if you don’t want to be continually replacing the plants in your garden, choose those that are well-suited to your local environment and are long-lived. If you do choose plants that have a shorter lifespan, prune regularly to increase longevity.

Some of our favourite long-lived plants are:

 

Banksia spinulosa – Hairpin banksia. Capable of regeneration after heavy pruning or fires.