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Monday, March 16

Gondwanaland to the rescue for beleaguered gardeners in parched California

This licuala ramseyi from northern Australia is an ideal, slow growing palm for the small garden. 
Voltaire Moise/Special to West Hawaii Today 

The March 16 Guardian report I quoted in the last post (California has one year of reservoir water leftmentioned:
On Tuesday, [California's] State Water Resources Control Board is scheduled to vote on a conservation measure that would limit landscape watering, the strictest mandate directed at such water use the state has considered.
I haven't seen the mandate's wording but it would have very limited application, if any, to properties in California that can claim exemption from watering restrictions because they're in an area prone to wildfires, or if not watering adequately would make the vegetation into a big fire hazard. That last would probably include private estates that have grounds as large as a botanical garden.

But while it's late in the day, there is an alternative to the dilemma posed by severely restricted landscape watering, and that's to use drought-resistant plantings. I don't have a link on hand to reference but I have seen reports from last year that as the drought continued, professional landscapers in California received many requests for just such plantings.

And there's always been a 'native plantings' cadre among gardeners in the state.  It just needs more encouragement and maybe a bigger or more appealing selection of plants from which to choose.  It's like dieting; nutrition experts have learned that recommending healthier food choices isn't enough. People need to make the choices a part of their lives. So today many nutritionists work with chefs to come up with healthy food dishes that people can really enjoy eating for the rest of their lives. So it's a matter of translating this concept to landscaping and gardening in drought-prone areas.    

So I'm going to toss in several passages from the following report from West Hawaii Today on the growing interest among gardeners and landscapers in that state in indigenous plants from other parts of the world, specifically, Australia, that do well in the Hawaii climate, and which are drought resistant. The emphasis throughout the report is mine:

Many Australian natives prove drought resistant
By Norman Bezona
Special to West Hawaii Today
July 20, 2014

Information in this report is supplied by the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources

What do Australia, New Caledonia and Hawaii have in common? Australia and New Caledonia are thought to be part of the great continent known as Gondwanaland and hold some of the most ancient species of plants and animals known today. Surprisingly, even though Hawaii is about the youngest real estate around, the ancient species thus far introduced prove to be very hardy. Many are found to be extremely drought tolerant.

Waterwise gardening starts with planting drought tolerant plants. Many Australian native plants fit this bill. Along with Hawaiian native plants, they can help us cut our water bill.

It seems that all life has cycles. Ideas, attitudes and philosophies have cycles as well. We shift from conservative to liberal and back. Clothing styles cycle as well. Even landscape design and plant popularity has cycles. Often, these swings of the pendulum hit an extreme before a movement back in the other direction.

In plant use, we are swinging toward using local, native plants, and a few landscape designers are using only native plants. This is exciting since native plants have been ignored for a long time. It is important to protect and use our native plants in the landscape and at the same time be on the lookout for rare, beautiful and possibly endangered plants such as those from Australia to enhance our local environment. Some of these can grow where nothing else will.

Hawaii is known for its varied and unusual plant life. Many of these plants have been introduced from the West Indies, South America and Africa. But few plants have adapted themselves so well as those from tropical and subtropical Australia.

Australia is a vast and ancient continent. This isolated land mass still contains some lifeforms that became extinct on other continents eons ago. It is not surprising that many plants from Australia adapt well to the Hawaiian Islands. With every climactic zone imaginable in Australia, plus an extremely long period of evolution, there are hundreds of species we can grow here. Less than 1 percent has been introduced.

Take for example the paperbark tree. It has long been used here in windbreaks. It, like the eucalyptus, is closely related to our native ohia. Our native honey creepers actually feed on the necter of these trees like they do the ohia. I don’t usually recommend the paperbark because it is so common and the flower smell is reminiscent of cooking mashed potatoes. However, there are scores of other species, some with lavender, pink, yellow or red flowers. They vary from bushes to tall trees. My favorite has the form of a weeping willow.

In some tropical countries, paperbark is planted for reforestation purposes since it has some commercial use. The common paperback is well behaved in Hawaii, but in the Florida Everglades, it has done too well because of the draining of that region. This creates an ecological vacuum that the paperbark trees found ideal. Now, instead of sawgrass, some areas are forested with paperback.

The colorful bottlebrushes also include Callistemons. Dozens of species are available in Australian nurseries varying from small evergreen shrubs to large trees. Their flowers are made up of clusters of stems that look like the common kitchen bottle cleaner. Flowers vary from white and yellow to pink and red. They are followed by woody seed capsules, which look like beads pressed into the bark of the stem.

Advantages of the bottlebrushes are their insect and disease resistance, tolerance of drought and wet conditions and overall attractive appearance.
[...]
All right, that's enough discussion of plants for this blog but there's plenty more in the report that would be of interest to Californians who despair they'll ever have anything like a garden again.  

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