" To plant trees is to give body and life to one's dreams of a better world " Russell Page

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Plant profiles: The Grass Tree

Call me weird, but I have never fancied garden sculptures... I mean anything besides really antique ones in historical gardens. I love old fountains and really withered urns, but this is it.
In change I really like plants with a very sculptural, plastic shape. A huge blue agave can make a real statement and so do giant cactus - provided you can afford and grow them!

Another such a sculptural thing is the Australian native Xanthorrhoea australis or Grass Tree.
The origin of the name is Greek - xanthos meaning yellow and rheo  flow, a reference to the resin that is obtained from these plants.

Particularly sculptural and perfectly trimmed Grass Tree - Australia

Grass Trees are related to the lilies, but are placed in the separate family of Xanthorrhoeaceae ( now that is a spelling challenge!). They are close relatives with the sagg (Lomandra longifolia). 

They are very slow growing, with some elderly specimens being amongst the oldest living plants on a worldwide scale, surviving for many hundreds of years.
In their natural, wild habitat old examples are survivors of wild fires and develop into architectural masterpieces. Wild fire can cause their blackened trunk (1 to 2 metres) to branch into two or even more heads. These consist of thick, rough corky bark, surrounded by long, wiry leaves of green silvery colour - especially the Xanthorrhoea glauca spp angustifolia . The leaves form a round "crown" or mop which is very decorative.

 Grass Trees at the Botanical Garden, Barcelona

Being an Australian native, the Grass Tree is extremely drought tolerant and hence a real value for a dry garden in hot climates. It can survive occasional minus temperatures but should be protected from frost and yes,it stays a plant for warm climates. Apart that it is a tough boy which does not require any care or treatment.
The individual flowers are white or cream and very small. They are clustered together in a spear-like spike which can tower 2 metres or more above the top of the trunk.  Flowering occurs in spring but it may not occur annually.The flowers are followed by fruits containing a few hard, black seeds.

 Grass Trees in their natural habitat

The Grass Tree, like the Cycas has a reputation of being a real slow grower, but although I have never grown a Grass Tree I did grow Cycas and can tell you that given a minimum of care, mine produced to splendid rows of leaves per year! So everything is relative in the garden too!
If there is something negative about the Grass Tree is the fact that you can only seldom find it for sale and if you do find it, you might be scared of the price!

Yet if you are a patient and experimental gardener you might try to grow it from seed. It germinates reasonably well without pretreatment, although growth is slow and seedlings take many years to develop into large specimens. They do, however, form attractive small garden plants in 3-4 years.


  1. Wow! I have to read it in more details. Fascinating insight. Thanks for the info.

    1. Glad you like it! I'm currently trying to make a selection of drought resistant, easy to grow and less known plants in the Plant Profile chapter. So there will be more of them comming...