A Christmas Tree that Decorates Itself
Ah Christmas is here again, at last (or is it ‘already!’). You go to pull the plastic Christmas tree out of the garage but it’s looking a bit dusty, and maybe that’s a spider scurrying away. You pull open your bag of ornaments but it looks like the cat has played with a few too many. You think about getting a real tree this year, but are not too excited about lugging such a big, heavy thing home.
There is a solution. This year, you can set yourself up with a festive-looking large shrub or small tree that literally decorates itself – the New South Wales Christmas Bush. And don’t worry if you’re not in New South Wales, as there are different plants called Christmas Bush that grow in almost every state.
Victorian Christmas Bush Prostanthera lasianthos grows in Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory, and Tasmania. It has lovely white, pink or purplish flowers which bloom in summer and provide nectar to birds. This Christmas Bush has another great plus in that it provides a protective habitat for birds to hide amongst.
South Australian and Tasmanian Christmas Bush Bursaria spinosa grows in all states except Western Australia. Not only do its small cream coloured flowers smell sweet and look like stars, but this plant is a favourite for many butterflies. Eltham or Dull Copper butterflies, Bright or Dark Copper butterflies, and Bathurst or Purple Copper butterflies all love to eat the leaves of this plant and lay their eggs on it. This Christmas Bush also provides a great home for many different kinds of birds to build their nests in. Tassie locals have an added present from this Christmas Bush - its fruits attract Green Rosellas to come and have a feed. It's the Christmas Bush that just keeps on giving!
The West Australian Christmas Tree's golden blossoms burst with brilliant colour and a sweet honey smell. The West Australian Christmas Tree is a kind of mistletoe, and like all mistletoes, it provides food for many insects, birds and mammals at times when other food is scarce. Birds like honeyeaters love mistletoes, and some butterflies lay their eggs on them so that their larvae can make a meal of it. Birds also love to nest in mistletoe as it provides shade and protection.
The West Australian Christmas Tree is the largest mistletoe in the world. Mistletoes are not weeds and have co-evolved with Australian plants. They are semi-parasitic plants and are uncommon in healthy bush, but are greatly appreciated by many Australian animals, birds and insects as a food source and nesting area.
The New South Wales Christmas Bush is a tricky character. The vibrant red ’flowers’ that this tree is known for aren’t actually flowers at all. The tree sends out its real flowers in spring, and these are relatively modest—small, cream coloured, star-like and a little bit stinky. Deep pink to bright red sepals (which are little leaves that protect the flower bud) emerge and take over the plant after the flowers die.
This plant attracts insects and insect-eaters with its white flowers and pinky-red sepals. Tawny Frogmouths and many small birds such as the Fairy Wren feed almost entirely on insects, and so love plants that attract insects. Many birds will give you a nice Christmas present for planting insect-attracting plants, by controlling bug numbers in your garden and providing an exciting show for you when they feed.
If you don’t have the green thumb and growing your own is a bit out of your league, you can easily get a big bunch of vivid scarlet Christmas Bush from the florist to decorate your home during the festive season.
Cut flowers from the New South Wales Christmas Bush will last for up to three weeks. Cut the bottoms of the stems at an angle and change the water regularly to prolong the life of your bouquet.
DID YOU KNOW?
The scientific name of the New South Wales Christmas Bush, Ceratopetalum gummiferum, refers to the horn shaped petals, and the fact that this plant produces large amounts of gum when the bark is cut.
For the sepals to achieve a bright red colour, your plant needs to receive a lot of sunlight, so make sure you don’t plant it somewhere too shady. This plant likes moist conditions, and regular watering will give a good, long flowering season.