The Low-down on Short Plants

MarcusYou would think there would be nothing simpler than to find a native plant that won’t grow over a metre tall. Well, those of you who have been shopping for small native plants may have discovered that the range available is actually quite limited. If you’re planting a rainforest garden you have a pretty good choice of ferns, and a handful of sedges and a few other small flowering plants. There are also a small number of shrub cultivars that have stunted growth and thus fall into the category of small plants.

For gardeners planting a drier style garden, the range isn’t much bigger. There are the ever-popular compact baeckeas, dwarf melaleucas, prostrate grevilleas, sedges and grasses. And the very popular prostrate Gardenia Glennie River from Cape York. However, as a whole, you’ll find that most native plants that grow successfully up here in the tropics will grow rather tall. The reasons for this are quite straight forward. Plants growing in the rainforest are in a constant struggle for sunlight, so most grow tall to reach the canopy. Those which live on the forest floor are those that can survive with very little light, such as the ferns, some palms and cordylines.

In the drier areas plants are generally over 3 metres tall for a completely different reason. They face the threat of fires every dry season. As a result the ground cover is dominated by grasses which can quickly recover after fires, and not much else. Those small cottage-garden plants so many of us have grown up with originated from places where fires are uncommon, such as heath-lands, and the grassy meadows of Europe. Unfortunately for our native gardeners, our climate is not conducive to evolving small pretty plants. Here they are rather a rarity and we have to make do with the ones we have. Having said that, Yuruga nursery is currently striving to increase its range of small growing native plants.

Most of the popular locally growing species have always been available, but now there are a few species in the collection from a little further away such as Kangaroo Paws and Claw Flowers from WA, and clumping grasses and sedges from around the country. The tricky thing about introducing new native species into the range is determining if they will grow in our local conditions. Let’s face it, Far North Queensland has a climate that is completely different to the major metropolitan areas of Australia, and for that reason, not everything that grows down south will grow up here.

So if you have a low-growing native plant in your garden that you think Yuruga Nursery might be interested in, you might like to let us know about it so it can be shared with your fellow north Queenslanders.

Marcus Achatz
Yuruga Nursery

(Published in Cairns City Life magazine, January 2009)