Aboriginal Use of Plants

Aboriginal people an extensive knowledge of the land and its animal and plant resources. Many plants have specialist uses for food, tools and medicine, and were often named to reflect their use. A number of plants that were used by the Aboriginal people in south east Australia are growing in Milarri, the Aboriginal Centre Garden at Melbourne Museum.

Always remember that Aboriginal people have expert knowledge about plants and that many are poisonous unless treated properly.


Botanical Traditions - Indigenous Plants

Indigenous plants are not just from Australia, but from the local area, which means that the plants are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions. The use of indigenous plants grown from seed collected in the local area is very important in order to protect the gene pool of any remnant vegetation.

Benefits of growing and designing with indigenous plants include:

Is the use of indigenous plants more important than using other plants?

Not always is our opinion. If the soil has significantley changed, coupled with climate change, the use of indigenous plants maybe unsuitable. In addition, some characteristics may be unachieveable if indigenous plants are sued - for instance, the creation of shady areas in Summer. Having said this most of our designs do include plants which are indigenous to the local area, where it is suitable to do so. We have also installed many 'Bush Tucker' areas in our designs.

Indigenous Plant Districts

In general the indigenous plants are divided according to soil and climatic conditions. There are many indigenous Nurseries and most will specialise in growing plants specific to a local area. Good indigenous nurseries will be able to tell you where and when the source seed was collected from.

Can Australian Plants Be Weeds?

Weeds are among the most serious threats to Australia's natural environment and primary productivity.

A weed is any plant that:

Throughout Australia, weeds are spreading faster than they can be controlled. Major invasions change the natural diversity and balance of ecological communities. These changes threaten the survival of many plants and animals as the weeds compete with native plants for space, nutrients and sunlight.

We know that garden and ornamental plants and pasture grasses have been brought to Australia from all over the world and that many of these have spread from gardens and farms into natural environments.

Weeds typically produce large numbers of seeds or suckers that assist their spread. Seeds spread into natural environments, including waterways, via wind, people, vehicles, machinery, birds and other animals. Weeds rapidly invade disturbed sites. Weeds also thrive where fertilizers, oil and other wastes are washed into bushland, leaving extra nutrients in the soil. Weeds in the ocean spread over wide areas in a very short time. Introduced seaweeds came to Australia in the early 1980s in the ballast water of ships. They are now invading marine environments along the coast of south-eastern Australia.

However, it is now understood that Australian plants just like exotic plants can become weeds. Many Australian plants have spread beyond their natural range within Australia and overseas to become invasive in areas where they don't normally exist.

It is easy to define the difference between native and indigenous plants. The Oxford Dictionary defines 'native' as the place or country in which you were born, and 'indigenous' as native to the soil region etc. A plant may be indigenous to a wet gully and native to SE Australia, or indigenous to the Dandenong Ranges and native to Australia.

In some cases even indigenous plants can become weeds in their local environment. For example Leptospermum laevigatum (coast tea-tree) at Wilsons Promontory National Park has become a weed as the number of bushfires in the area has decreased. The decrease in fire has meant that the Leptospermum has overgrown and out shaded other indigenous plants. People argue that this is a weed, while others argue that it should not be classed as a weed as it is indigenous.

An example of a weedy native beyond its natural range is Pittosporum undulatum or sweet pittosporum which is destroying bushland remnants west of Westernport Bay in Victoria. Trudi Mullett of the Weeds CRC and CSIRO in Canberra highlighted the reasons for sweet pittosporum becoming arguably the most successful 'native' weed in SE Australia. "It is so successful because it has been planted widely as an ornamental tree, its fruit are dispersed by birds and other animals, fire regimes have changed allowing it to survive in areas previously burnt regularly, and it is highly adaptable", says Mullett. It increases plant competition, shading and soil moisture, which leads to the loss of local indigenous plants and animals.

The 'top 20' list of weedy Australian native plants in Victoria by Geoff Carr of Ecology Australia is an eye opener. Included on this list are eight wattles eight wattles (including Acacia baileyana), three Hakea species, Kunzea ericoides (burgan), Leptospermum laevigatum (coast tea-tree), three Melaleuca species, Paraserianthes lophantha (cape wattle), Pittosporum undulatum (sweet pittosporum), and Sollya heterophylla (bluebell creeper). Geoff Carr also points out that some natives and exotics are hybridising with local indigenous plants changing the genetic make-up of indigenous species.