Not like you need reminding but here in the Riverland we experience many extremes. An extremely good lifestyle. An extreme lack of traffic lights. Extremely co-hesive communities. Extremely hot summers. Extremely tough plants.
We have watched as traditional garden plants have quite literally baked in the sun and ultra dry soils. However all of our local species (not riparian species) and most of the species that naturally occur in the dry areas of Australia cope well with the extremes.
Saltbushes and their allies make up the majority of vegetation on the vast treeless areas of the arid zone. Acacia and Eucalyptus species dominate the rest.
They all (and many others) to varying degrees tolerate salinized soils, drought, (in fact salt in the soil has a similar effect of drought on plants) low soil fertility and extremes of temperature, among other extremes. The cruellest blow would have to be overgrazing by the rabbit. Yet amazingly most still survive.
So if you are looking for the perfect tough plant for your garden that can tolerate 45 deg. C + days, frost, no watering, no mulch or fertilizer, then to top it off, perhaps salty soil and being eaten to the ground. AND still grow lush? Does such a plant actually exist? Absolutely!!
Some of the ways that plants cope with the extremes our environment dishes up are hairy leaves to keep cooler, grey leaves to reflect light, really small leaves to reduce surface area and hence water loss, leaves that roll up and very effectively reduce the surface area. Leathery leaves, oily leaves, leaves that hang in the midday sun, highly reflective leaves and stomata (pores) that never really open wide all to reduce water loss. Leaves and other plant parts that actually store water. Leaves and stems shaped to channel water to the roots. Chemicals contained in the leaves that prevent them from being eaten. Deep roots. The ability to grow back rapidly after being burnt or being eaten.
I can hear you say these sorts of plants are grey, hairy, deep-rooted low saltbushes with insignificant flowers! Yes of course. Many are, however many including the often strikingly beautiful Acacia ‘wattles’ and Eremophila ‘emu bush’ are well worth using in any dry land (that’s us!) garden.
Using contrasting foliage types to create interest year round, different flowering times to bring in birds all year round and bold use of massed plantings of single species not only can your garden look beautiful but also using the toughest plants Australia has to offer, you can rest easy in a heat wave, even if the mercury reaches 48 deg. C with a howling northerly. And water restrictions. Not like you need reminding!
This article first published in the Riverland Weekly © February 16, 2009.