Recreating the Country blog
- becoming wild in isolation.
This month, botanical names starting with A
Last week we started our nature adventure and name challenge with the amazing Chocolate Lily. Arthropodium strictum and three of its close relatives that are all sweet scented and edible. Click here to read about them.
Its exciting planting some of our wonderful natural heritage in your own garden. Then you can see millions of years of evolution going through its annual life-cycle where you can appreciate it every day
How did you go with the first tongue twister botanical name? I find botanical names have a rhythm that helps me remember them. Say them over to yourself a few times to hear the 'flow' of the words. There is a poetic beauty in them that you will find
The next amazing indigenous plant is another ground level plant with a close cousin that is a familiar shrub, though you may not realise it yet. I think of this ground-layer plant as a very useful groundcover. It's a saltbush that isn’t a bush and it has all the toughness, hardiness and the usefulness of the saltbush family.
Berry or Creeping Saltbush, Atriplex semibaccata
How to say it.
At – trip – lex and run those syllables together. Semi offers little challenge, and as you think of the Magna Carta, say bac – cata and you’ve got it.
Its ancient origins are all Latin - Salsa anyone
Pliny the Elder first used the Latin word atriplex in his remarkable book ‘Natural History’ published in AD 77. He was describing an edible mountain spinach and other related useful plants like amaranth.
The Latin word baccata = bearing berries. The scientific name literally means a spinach like plant with berries.
It follows that the Berry Saltbush is a member of the amaranth family as are all the saltbush species.
Some human context
The berries on the Berry Saltbush can be eaten fresh or made into jam if you have the inclination and the time as they are very small. They are a little sweet with a salty note. You know its diamond shaped berries are ripe when they turn red.
To add to its potential, its leaves are high in protein and can be grazed by sheep. As it grows it hugs the ground and can spread to 1m across within twelve months. Its grey foliage is an attractive feature that provides good contrast in the home garden.
If you're looking for a dense fast growing drought tolerant groundcover, its hard to find a match for this plant.
Like other members of the saltbush family it's higher leaf salt levels make it less flammable. This feature makes it very useful in fire prone country locations where dry straw mulch and wood chips can become a fire hazard.
The Berry Saltbush is therefore very valuable as a fire retardant living mulch.
Here is an interesting observation and link from Stuart McCallum, activist, conservationist and long time Friend and protector of the Bannockburn Bush.
This Berry Saltbush has managed to colonise our VicRoads/Golden Plains replanting site on Harvey Rd.
The Berry Saltbush provides dense cool habitat for insects like springtails as well as skinks and frogs.
Imagine your well fed garden Bluetongue lizzards safe in a home that provides a balanced diet of protein rich insects and vitamin rich fruit for most of the year.
Small ground feeding birds like the
Superb Fairywren will pick through the grey foliage to find insects and berries as well.
A close relative - Atriplex nummularia
Its bushy close cousin that I mentioned earlier is Oldman Saltbush, Atriplex nummularia. You may know it as the plant that saltbush lamb is grown on.
Nummularia is pronounced numb – mule – area. It earned its Latin name because its circular leaves are like a Roman coin, nummus = coin
Nature notes & human context
Both its leaves and seeds can be eaten, the latter being used as a protein rich food by Indigenous Australians. Read more about its food potential here
This bush grows to about 2m x 2m and is planted on farms in hedgerows to provide drought proof nutritious food for grazing animals. It also provides them with dense wind shelter.
Other animals like small birds and Bluetongue lizards have been recorded using the dense habitat it provides for nesting and for shelter.
... and their easy to propagate
Both atriplex species are easy to propagate from seed. It’s as simple as collecting the mature berries and sowing them into potting mix (or garden soil). They’ll germinate within a few weeks.
When they are large enough to handle, transplant into small pots to grow them on for the garden or the back paddock. See this link to the NSW Department of Primary Industries for more information on Oldman Saltbush as stock fodder.
Next week we will venture into the very large genus of Acacias with two of my favourites - a beautiful small shrub and a longlived graceful small tree.
Stephen Murphy is an author, an ecologist and a nurseryman. He has been a designer of natural landscapes for over 30 years. He loves the bush, supports Landcare and is a volunteer helping to conserve local reserves.