The native flora of Australia is nothing if not bountiful--more than 25,000 species of plants and trees grow on the continent. The different environments offered by the Australian landscape--rain forest, desert, heathland and meadow--dictate where flora is most prevalent. Species run the gamut from amazing to poisonous, but all serve a special purpose and are uniquely Australian.
The baobab is called the "upside down" tree in Africa because the branches look like tree roots. A famous baobab tree is located in Derby and was once used as a makeshift jail.
Another interesting tree is the Idiospermum. It is a flowering tree and was thought to be extinct for millions of years until one was found in the Daintree area after cows there died from eating the seeds.
The mangrove is a special tree that can survive in saltwater. They are very important to the bottom of the food chain and have a direct result on the quantity and quality of fish in the ocean.
The most painful tree is called a "stinging tree," or Gympie Gympie. A chemical from hairs that cover the plant stick to the skin if the leaves are touched can cause pain for months. It's wise to avoid these trees at all costs.
Gum trees (eucalyptuses), so called because they excrete a sticky, gum-like substance from their trunks, are the most visible of the Australian flora. They are found everywhere in Australia with the exception of the rainforest. The eucalyptuses' foliage contains fragrant oils. For this reason, branches are seen for sale in retail stores for crafting purposes. The flowers of the tree contain nectar and are important for honey production. Eucalyptuses are also used in building, medicine, furniture and paper.
There are over 200 species of Melaleuca, an evergreen shrub found along waterways and adjacent to swampland, as well as in Australian parks. Birds and bats are attracted to Melaleuca. The larger varieties are known as paperbarks because of their thin trunk material; the smaller ones are called honey myrtles or punk trees.
The most widely know Melaleuca is the Ti tree, which provides tea tree oil. This essential oil is commercially used in topical items ranging from antibiotics to soaps and household cleaners. The paperbark was widely used by the Australian Aborigines and today is used internationally in many wellness products.
If you're looking for clusters of flowers with a bright red hue, the Australian Waratah is the answer. These flowers have little to no scent but are very attractive to birds because of their vivid colour (see image above). They are popular garden inhabitants in Australia but can also be found in rainforests as well as the Bush. Because of its hardiness in the area, New South Wales adopted the Waratah as its floral emblem in 1962. (See Reference 1.)
Wattles can be found in almost every part of Australia. Their flowers are either grouped together like pom poms or are long and cylindrical. Although in competition with the Waratah for a spell, the Golden Wattle became the floral symbol for Australian patriotism in 1988. (See Reference 2.) National Wattle Day is September 1 and is celebrated throughout Australia for its diversity (over 1,000 species).
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