IRYMPLE’S Ray Hopkins has an interesting native tree growing in his backyard that came to the attention of the ‘Weekly recently and so we paid him a visit.

Ray’s tree is part of the Xanthorrhoea genus and is one of about 30 species of flowering plants endemic to Australia.

The species is commonly known by the name ‘grass tree’ and are found in a variety locations in the Australian bush and outback and are particularly found in Western Australia. 
The tree has a number of different species that vary in size, but the unique feature of Ray’s tree, is the six ‘spears’ that have grown from its centre.

“I’ve just come back from spending three months in Western Australia and you see them over there quite a lot, but this one of mine comes from the east coast of Australia and it’s a completely different tree to those in WA,” Ray said. “They do grow a spear, but it’s not very big.

“When mine had five spears some people from National Geographic heard about it and came and took some photos of it and now that it has six, I thought it may be of interest to the ‘Weekly’s readers.

Ray said that it’s unusual to have a bush as big as his because they are so hard to grow.

“When that was planted, you don’t put it in a lot of soil you put rocks around it,” he said.

“You have to put a lot of rocks around it and some soil and you leave it to settle in and take root.

“When this was planted about 12 to 14 years ago, it was only 30 cm tall, and they are highly fragile and so you leave them alone for about a fortnight.

“We actually planted two at the time. One took off and survived the other one didn’t take.”

Ray said that in the bush the trees tend to be found in clusters in certain areas, they aren’t prolific and found just anywhere.

“You can be out somewhere and walk over a hill and all of a sudden there will be 30 of them,” he said. “They don’t grow here and there and all over the place.”

Ray said the tree looks after itself and he never directly waters it.

“The only real water it gets is when it rains and so it’s had a bit lately, and I suppose when we water the lawn it gets something from that too,” he said.

Ray added that the spears will eventually fall off and new ones grow.

“The tree flowers and the spear like stems have a nectar that attracts birds,” he said.

“It all comes out in flower and the stems have a honey like nectar and you’ll have a hundred birds on there fighting to get a taste of it. They love it and we get some big birds.”

The other fascinating thing is that in the natural habitat, the grass trees will get burnt in a bush fire and then they will bounce back untarnished and so Ray occasionally sets fire to his tree.

“It’s due to be burnt and in their natural state they do get burnt and that actually revitalises the tree,” he said.

“It’s been burnt twice and it burns easily, but it only the burns the dead material away and within the next two days you have green again.

“You’ve got to do it otherwise the spears won’t keep coming up.”

Xanthorrhoea species were also known as kangaroo tail and blackboy and the Aboriginal people called the plants Balga because after a bushfire had ravaged the land, the blackened trunk of the Xanthorrhoea would be revealed beneath the burned lower leaves, and would resemble a child-like black figure.

It’s a plant that can suit most gardens and being endemic to Australia means it’s ideal for our climate and environment hence why Ray’s tree is thriving in Mildura.

By John Dooley