The WA Christmas Tree, Nuytsia floribunda, is just coming into flower and its bright orange flowers look stunning against the bright blue Western Australian sky. I am not the first person to write about this stunning plant on GardenDrum but I thought it deserved another mention.
Nuytsia planting attempts
As mentioned in previous posts, we have 40 acres about 90 minutes north of Perth. Whilst there are Christmas trees on the neighbouring properties, ours didn’t have any. This was a deficiency I wanted to rectify. About 3 years ago we were lucky enough to get 3 tube-stock plants from Muchea Tree Farm. All 3 were planted on sandy hills, in the white sand, and fingers were crossed. Sadly, one was eaten by an escaped cow and another didn’t survive planting. The good news is that one has survived, with the assistance of summer watering over the last 2 years, and appears to be thriving – very exciting.
Nuytsia’s parasitic nature
Although, maybe I shouldn’t be quite so excited as this plant is hemi-parasitic, which means that whilst it carries out its own photosynthesis, it is also a root parasite. We were told that it would attach itself to anything, even grass, and it appears that our young plant has managed to attach itself to something to keep it happy. One of the hardest things we have found in growing it is remembering not to weed around it just in case it is those ‘weeds’ to which it has attached itself. I should also clarify here that the Nuytsia does not grow directly on the host plant but extracts nutrients and water from the roots of a host plant.
The Christmas tree was planted at the same time as a number of other tube-stock natives – and this is where I may ultimately find that I have out-smarted myself. On the whole, the plants have done well, with the exception of one young wattle, an Acacia rostellifera which, after growing well for the first 2 years, just gave up the ghost. I pulled it out of the ground and the sight that greeted me caused my heart to sink.
My first thoughts were (1) OMG nematodes and (2) how on earth did some white Froot Loops cereal attach themselves to the roots of the plant?
However, further investigations revealed the problem was not nematodes nor feral Froot Loops, but the parasitic roots (haustoria) of a Nuytsia.
The distance between the young Christmas tree and the dead wattle was about 30 metres. Whether the wattle died because of the parasitic roots of the young Christmas tree we don’t know, and whether the wattle could have survived had it been older we don’t know either. According to the Australian Native Plant Society (ANPS) website, it has been reported that the roots of a Nuytsia can attach to a host up to 150 meters away. So whilst it is perhaps possible that it was the roots of the young Nuytsia, it is perhaps more likely that it is one of the more mature trees in the area.
So maybe we will rue our efforts in future but at this stage we remain pretty excited that we have had one successful planting. Hopefully in time we will be able to enjoy both the Nuytsia and a range of other natives that we planted around the same time.