the over 900 acacias in
Australia, only 2 are readily found in our Southwest nurseries.
Acacia baileyana (known commonly in
as the Cootamonda wattle) is classified as a weed by
Australian plant societies.
Here in the U.S. Southwest, however, this
fast-growing multi-trunk tree or shrub is among the earliest
bloomers, bringing bright, clear yellow flowers to the
garden in mid-winter – probably a genetic memory of summer
blooming in the Southern hemisphere.
with puffy yellow ball-like flowers, makes a great shrub
groundcover for slopes with poor soil, spreading to 12 feet
wide with little need for water.
The Dr. Seuss Tree.
If you want shade and want it fast, plant a
Eucalyptus tree – a tree
illustrated in many Dr. Seuss books.
Not only do eucalyptus trees grow rapidly, they need
very little water and almost no fertilizer, except an
occasional dose of chelated iron, such as Kerex.
Of the 150 species grown in the West, here are three
that thrive in the desert.
Coral Gum (Eucalyptus torquata)
grows to 35 feet, has light green to yellow-green leaves and
flowers that look like Oriental lanterns.
It is long blooming.
Cider Gum (Eucalyptus
gunnii) adds height quickly to as much as 70 ft. and is
quite hardy. It
has long, silvery-blue leaves with green and tan bark.
Silver Dollar tree
is the source of leaves used in floral arrangements, but you
have to keep cutting it back to get those round silver
leaves. As the
leaves mature they become long, narrow and green.
Grows to 30 to 70 ft. tall – but not if you keep
trimming it back!
Natural Companions. Near a Eucalyptus, consider planting a
perennial Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos
“Bush Gem”) which grows naturally in the Eucalyptus
. As an
accent plant, they start by looking something like a
thin-leafed yucca--sorta boring--then spikes shoot
up 2 feet or more above the leaves bearing bright
tubular flowers at the top in yellow, red, purple,
The flowers are shaped like Kangaroo paws – hence
the name – and are a favorite of hummingbirds.
The ‘Bush Gold’ and ‘Bush Ranger’ hybrids are
the easiest to grow and most resistant to pests and
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Echoes of the East. For those of you originally from the Eastern part of
the U.S., the Australian Paper Bark tree (Melaleuca
quinquenervia) can be a reminder of the white bark
birch trees. The
trunk is covered with a thick, light brown (almost white),
perpetually peeling bark; the branches are weeping; the
leaves are long and pale green.
These look great planted as a small grove and need
little water. A
frost turns the leaves purple.
A tip: peel the thick bark and use it to line hanging
wire flower baskets.
Pink bottle brush (Callistemon) with its hot
pink blooms is an eye-catcher that will thrive in a
The Freeway Shrub.
No, we’re not talking about the indestructible Oleander which is planted
along freeways for hundreds of miles in California, but
another one that seems to thrive in adverse conditions along
roads and highways.
It’s the red bottle brush tree (Callistemon
The Australians can keep all of the red ones. In our
opinion, it is an ugly plant that grows fast and blooms with
those red bottlebrush-looking flowers for months on end.
Its one virtue is that hummingbirds like it. On
the other hand, the Perth Pink variety, in the photo, above, is
One last reminder:
brisk winter winds can seriously dehydrate plants so be sure
to water them periodically over the winter even if the
weather stays chilly.