What Plants Grow in the Australian Outback?

Updated April 17, 2017

The heat and dry conditions of the Australian outback make it an inhospitable place for life, but a variety of plants have adapted to the climate and landscape. Some have long roots that find water underground, while others have extraordinary water-conservation abilities. Their hardiness makes them among the world's most eccentric plants.

Sandhill Wattle

The sandhill wattle (Acacia ligulata) is a dome-shaped shrub that grows up to 12 feet tall, although many are shorter. It is common across the outback, especially on sand hills. In the spring, it produces yellow blossoms with round, fuzzy shapes. According to the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden website, it is nicknamed the umbrella wattle due to the shape rabbits give it when they munch off the lower leaves.

Sturt's Desert Pea

Sturt's desert pea (Swainsona Formosa) is the official flower of the state of South Australia; it has deep red blossoms with black bumps in the middle. These flowers sometimes flourish briefly after rainfalls, but they also can tolerate heat and frost. Their long tap roots allow them to drink water from deep underground during dry spells. Their striking appearance makes them popular in home gardens, according to the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden website.

Gum Tree

Gum trees, also known as eucalyptus trees, are a famous symbol of Australia. The vast majority of eucalyptus species are endemic to Australia. Their leaves are the chief diet of koalas, while humans use their aromatic oils in perfumes and medications. PBS' Nature website states that they are fireproof due to their thick bark, and the heat from fires encourages budding.


The mulga (Acacia aneura) is a long-living tree that can grow up to 30 feet tall. It survives drought conditions by draining water from the branches to the stem and the ground, where its roots can collect the moisture. Tap roots sometimes are several feet deep, even among plants that are only a few centimetres tall, according to an Australian Native Plants Society article by Horst Weber. Aboriginals ground seeds into a paste for food and sucked on the sap, which was referred to as "bush lollies."

Old Man Saltbush

Old man saltbush (Atriplex nummularia) is a shrub that grows up to 9 feet in the Australian outback, typically flourishing after summer rainfalls. In addition to long tap roots, it also has shallow roots that gather surface moisture from morning dew. Its blue-grey colouring keeps it from soaking in too much heat. Aboriginals used to grind its seeds to make damper bush bread--the traditional Australian soda bread prepared by swagmen, drovers and other travellers..

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