The importance of native plants on both the environment and wildlife
May 20, 2021
Native Plants are often overlooked when we design gardens for our homes, but they play such an important role in our ecosystem that it’s something we should start taking more into consideration and implementing within our designs.
I wanted to know more about the importance of native plants and get some tips for home, so I visited the Coolum Community Native Nursery and spoke with nursery manager Tim Lang.
Coolum Community Native Nursery is a non-profit nursery specialising in local native plants including the salt tolerant species that are iconic to the Sunshine Coast. Local salt tolerant plants are ideal for coastal areas as they generally require less water, fertiliser and maintenance than exotic plants. In addition they provide valuable food and habitat for local wildlife while maintaining the unique character of the environment they are common to.
Can you please start by telling the Boom community a little bit about yourself and your position here at the nursery?
My name is Tim Lang and I'm the manager of the Coolum Community Native Nursery. My job here is to support the volunteers who do almost all the work here producing these fabulous local native and coastal native plants for revegetation, for the dunes and for home gardens. It's a really amazing place to be and there's lots of enthusiastic people who are involved in this nursery. Coast Care have been a big part of this nursery historically and other organisations that do bush regeneration.
We support people who want to support our local environment by providing access to these plants, all local indigenous plants to the coastal strip. We harvest seeds from the wild, which we have permits to do, and we bring the seed back here where we prepare the seed, store them in our seed bank and then the volunteers propagate and pot up here. It’s really awesome.
What inspired you to become so passionate about native plants?
We need a healthy planet to live on and part of that is to support the natural environment that provides the services that allow us to live in a comfortable planet. Clean water, plants and trees that provide oxygen and habitat for wildlife, which then provides all sorts of services to keep the ecology going, such as pollination and spreading seeds through through the gut of birds. Humans play a key role in supporting all that stuff and because we've played a key role in degrading to the point where we could be in a lot of strife, particularly around climate change, water quality, air quality, etc. So let's all get in there, plant some native plants, support the native wildlife and support a healthy planet.
Is there any particular species of wildlife that you think we might overlook that play important roles?
Fruit bats are often maligned because they make a lot of noise, or if you live close to them they can be a bit smelly, but having said that they're critically important for the ongoing health of a lot of our bushland and forest as a pollinator of eucalyptus. So that's one species I think that we need to extend more love, understanding and empathy for.
Then there’s butterflies! From a gardeners perspective they hate grubs eating their plants, but they usually fail to make the connection that caterpillars become butterflies. So supporting people and helping them to increase their ecological literacy to understand the relationships between plants and animals, is really important.
While I'm on butterflies, we have the Richmond birdwing butterfly which has been critically endangered and very rare. It has a unique relationship with one of our local plants, Pararistolochia Praevenosa vine (common name the birdwing butterfly plant) that the butterfly needs as a food source, but unfortunately there is another vine very similar, Dutchman's pipe, which attracts the butterfly and actually kills it.
Invasive species generally can be a real issue for either directly affecting wildlife or inhibiting the growth of natives by taking over bush land. So part of our role is to really encourage people to go native and to get involved in reducing the impacts of invasive species, generally by weeding them out and replacing them with natives.
I asked Tim to recommend some natives that we can start planting in our gardens at home that are really easy to grow and well adapted to our local conditions. Here’s his suggestions;
Allocasuarina Torulosa (common name Forest Oak) and Allocasuarina Littoralis (common name River She Oak) are key food species for the Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo so growing these plants will help encourage the return of this endangered native bird.
Eucalyptus Bancroftii (common name Bancroft’s Red Gum) is a low branched gumtree that’s really interesting to look at and fine to be planted in surburban gardens. It’s really fantastic for attracting bees, birds and butterflies, and its gnarliness is something for people to love and enjoy those unique forms of our native plants.
Banksia Aemula (common name Wallum Banksia) is an iconic tree of the Sunshine Coast that grows to around 6m tall. The flowers are valuable in the garden for attracting native birds and Australia’s traditional owners often used Banksia Aemula flowers for a source of nectar. It’s another tree offering a great Cockatoo food source.
Acmena Hemilampra (common name Broad Leaved Lilly Pilly) is a stunning looking tree perfect for coastal environments and can be grown as both a hedge or feature tree. Glossy green foliage, bright copper-tan new growth and clusters of small white flowers followed by white, edible fruit.
Syzygium oleosum (common name Blue Lilly Pilly) is a hardy plant (once established) that grows up to 7m high and brilliant for hedges and screening, just like your common Lily Pilly. It produces a berries that turns blue once ripened and can be eaten raw. It’s also wonderful for attracting bees and insects.
The Coolum Community Native Nursery is wholly supported by the community and the volunteers who share their time to assist in planting, propagating and collecting seeds.
If you’re passionate about native plants and interested in volunteering at Coolum Community Native Nursery, then pop in and meet Tim and the team to see if there’s something you can do to get involved.