[ASC-media] Media release: the Christmas Curse

JCA Media jca.media at starclass.com.au
Mon Dec 11 13:11:45 CET 2006

Cooperative Research Centre for Australian Weed Management

Media Release 06/16

December 12, 2006


The holly and the ivy when they are both well grown, 
Can gobble up Australia, the land we call our own.

Many plants sentimentally associated with Christmas are in fact a threat to the native Australian landscape, warns Dr Rachel McFadyen, Chief Executive of the Cooperative Research Centre for Australian Weed Management.

"We're so used to thinking of Christmas in terms of its Northern Hemisphere symbols - holly, ivy, pine trees, mistletoe and the like - that we sometimes forget the havoc these plants can create in our native bush," says Dr McFadyen.

All four of the so-called Christmas symbols are in fact listed as weeds in many Australian environments.
Dr McFadyen says that both holly and ivy are recognised as weeds in Australia, and pine trees (Pinus radiata) are increasingly seen as a significant environmental weed with damaging effects on native plants and animals.

"Holly (Ilex aquifolium) is a pest when it becomes established in native woodland," says Dr McFadyen. "It is mainly spread by seed, as birds like the familiar red berries (which are poisonous to humans). It has invaded forests in Tasmania, Victoria, NSW, and South Australia.

"English ivy (Hedera helix) can escape into gullies and bushland," she says. "Ivy is a very vigorous grower and strangles other plants. It is commonly spread by berry eaters such as blackbirds and currawongs, and also through cuttings and garden refuse. ."

"How much better to use Australian native plants for our Australian Christmas decorations," she says.

Dr McFadyen says that there are native plants with Christmas associations which are very suitable for celebrating a truly Australian Christmas.

"Using native plants as Christmas decorations was popular last century and is a custom we need to revive for the sake of our environment," says Dr McFadyen. 

"There are several species which became locally known as 'Christmas Bush' or 'Christmas Bells'. In New South Wales and Queensland there are several varieties of Christmas Bells (Blandfordia), a type of lily, which have beautiful bell-shaped flowers in the summer, deep red with golden tips.

"Also in New South Wales is a well-known Christmas Bush (Ceratopetalum) which in summer has contrasting green leaves and bright red calyxes which follow the spring flowers. In Victoria, the name Christmas Bush is given to a flowering shrub (Prostanthera) which also grows in Queensland, New South Wales and Tasmania. In South Australia, the prickly flowering Bursaria spinosa is known as Christmas Bush, and the flowers and fruits are much used in flower arrangement.

"Queensland also has its Christmas Orchid," says Dr McFadyen, "and in Western Australia is the handsome golden Christmas tree (Nuytsia floribunda)."

The Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) is another new Xmas tree possibility, with its attractive foliage and compact shape. Brought back from the brink of extinction following its discovery in a remote Blue Mountains valley in 1994, this ancient species is now available commercially.

But care should be taken even when planting Australian natives. Dr McFadyen warns that any plant taken out of its natural surroundings has the potential to become 'weedy' in another setting, especially so in Australia where native plants have evolved independently to thrive in their own particular environments, separated by desert, distance and climate.

"We are blessed with a wonderful range of biodiversity," says Dr McFadyen. "The best way in which we can appreciate this is by observing it in its natural state - and by not introducing more potential invaders."

More information from:
Dr Rachel McFadyen, Weeds CRC, 0409 263 817
Peter Martin, Weeds CRC, 08 8303 6693, 0429 830 366

Images to accompany this release are available from Rita Reitano at: 
08 8303 6857 or 0419 184 153
rita.reitano at adelaide.edu.au


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