Grass trees, kangaroo paws and wax flowers bring freaky and fantastical Australia to Eden this spring
The Eden Project’s Mediterranean Biome is undergoing its biggest-ever transformation with the creation of a new area devoted to some of Australia’s extraordinary flora.
Fantastical and freaky exotics such as grass trees, kangaroo paws and wax flowers will for the first time grace the Biome.
The unique body of plants is all the more remarkable because, in its natural habitat, it survives and thrives on some of the earth’s oldest and most infertile soil.
Eden is collaborating with Kings Park and Botanic Garden in Perth, Western Australia, to recreate the iconic habitats of the south west of the vast state. Their senior curator, Grady Brand, has travelled to Eden to help the expert horticulture team with this large-scale installation.
Work is now progressing in the Biome and the first plants, including eleven of the highly-distinctive grass trees, have already been installed.
Dr Mike Maunder, Eden’s Director of Life Sciences, said: “South west Australia has fabulous flora found nowhere else on earth, with amazing flowers, ingenuous adaptations and great plant stories. Kings Park is helping us bring some of this floral magic to Eden. We have had great support from them and their chief executive Mark Webb. Eden’s expert horticulturists, Dina Gallick and Catherine Cutler, have worked closely with the Kings Park team and made extensive field trips into the bush.
“The Eden Project celebrates the wonder of the natural world, our dependence on it, and the imperative of repairing it. The flora of south west Australia is a natural wonder and is amongst the world’s most threatened landscapes. Eden is proud to be exhibiting these extraordinary plants and to recognise the conservation work of Kings Park and Botanic Garden.”
The new garden within a garden at Eden will have three sections. This first is Jarrah forest on the sloped beds, telling the story of the critical role of fire in maintaining habitat, and plant adaptations related to fire.
A central bed will showcase ‘wow’ plants such as wax flowers, everlastings and a collection of kangaroo paws.
The third section will be Kwongan, including iconic endemic plants such as Chamelaucium, Grevilleas, Banksias, Acacias, Eucalyptus and Calothamnus. This represents an area of impoverished soil with the lowest nutrients and yet has the greatest diversity of flora.
Eden is highlighting research from The University of Western Australia into the adaptation of Kwongan plants to acquire phosphorus in extremely impoverished soil, a trait that may prove useful in crop breeding.
Eden has a commissioned a design from leading Aboriginal artist, Dr Richard Walley, which represents the six seasons during which the Nyoongar people harvest wild food. These will be incorporated in the storytelling area with a traditional Aboriginal-designed path.
Here Catherine Cutler, lead horticulturist in the Mediterranean Biome, chooses ten of her favourite Australian plants:
Grass tree (Xanthorrhoea spp.)
These are the iconic plants of the region and grow only in Australia. Great tufts of grassy foliage burst from the top of charred trunks. These trunks are fire-proof but the leaves are not. After fire the plants will erupt into new growth and send skywards tall green spikes of flowers.
Red-and-green kangaroo paw (Anigozanthos manglesii)
The fantastic floral emblem of Western Australia, this being the only place on earth where it is found. Numerous different kangaroo paws grow in Western Australia but this one is possibly the most flamboyant of all, with its long-lasting tall stems and startling colour combination.
Everlastings (Rhodanthe ssp. and others)
Drawing international tourists to Western Australia is the spectacle of en-masse flowering of trillions of wildflowers. Semi-arid regions which are dry and desolate in summer, with sparse tree and scrub cover, come alive in early spring after good winter rains.
Scarlet banksia (Banksia coccinea)
Of all the fabulous banksias this one is arguably the finest. Virtually all banksias hail from Australia and have bizarre, long-lasting flowers often pollinated by birds and marsupials. Their seed pods are also eye-catching and freaky, with seeds held securely until fire and rain triggers their release.
Red Boronia (Boronia heterophylla)
Possibly nothing gives a hit of colour better than a red Boronia in full flower. The fine foliage is completely obscured by vivid pink flowers from top to toe. The plant (like so many others in the citrus family) also has a distinct aromatic foliage which can be recognised by an Australian from a distance.
Native wisteria (Hardenbergia comptoniana)
A plethora of peas grow in Western Australia, from tiny plants to large bushes and even climbers. Many are exceptionally showy and all are well adapted to Western Australia’s impoverished soils. In early spring the native wisteria is cloaked in a riot of purple flowers.
Mottlecah (Eucalyptus macrocarpa)
In Australia eucalypts are as well known for their flowers as their scented foliage. The mottlecah is found only Western Australia and has fabulous silver foliage all year around. However it is best known for its huge, spectacular flowers which are followed by huge fruit – the gum nuts.
Grevillea ‘Superb’ (Grevillea ‘Superb’)
Grevilleas most certainly fit the bill for freaky flowers with their long-lasting, spidery, flamboyant blooms. Species occur in nearly every colour imaginable. Some have lovely soft foliage while others are hard and spikey to touch.
Geraldton Wax (Chamelaucium uncinatum)
One of the few plants from Western Australia familiar to us in the UK, the Geraldton wax is grown commercially in huge quantities for cut flower sales. As with so many plants in Western Australia many small ancient populations occur in the wild. These populations each have unique characteristics and adaptations to their surroundings, making them a dream for plant breeders.
Christmas tree (Nuytsia floribunda)
When it comes to freaky, and sinister, the Christmas tree wins hands down. It is related to mistletoe and scavenges off other plants by wrapping its roots around theirs and extracting nutrition from them. It is a hemi-parasite as it does also have green leaves and make some of its own food by photosynthesis.
For more information about the new Australia garden at the Eden Project go to www.edenproject.com