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Products > Xanthorrhoea australis
Xanthorrhoea australis - Southern Grass Tree

Habit and Cultural Information
Category: Grass-like
Family: Xanthorrhoeaceae
Origin: Australia (Australasia)
Evergreen: Yes
Flower Color: White
Bloomtime: Infrequent
Height: 6-10 feet
Width: 4-6 feet
Exposure: Full Sun
Irrigation (H2O Info): Low Water Needs
Winter Hardiness: 20-25 F
Xanthorrhoea australis (Southern Grass-tree) - A slow growing small to medium sized grass tree with a 3 to 10 foot tall thick dark trunk that can be single, but usually is branched. This trunk is topped with hundreds of narrow 3 foot long arching blue-green grass-like leaves that are softer and less rigid than other grass-trees. The crown of leaves from a distance looking nearly spherical in shape and with older leaves hanging down as a skirt to cover the trunk. Though not blooming until mature, and then not every year, a 5-to-9-foot spike bearing cream-colored flowers rises up typically from mid-winter to late spring.

Plant in full sun in a well-drained soil where it tolerates a regular watering schedule to little or no irrigation once established. Requires little fertilizer and use none that has phosphorus. Hardy to at least 20 F. An interesting and attractive sculptural plant in the garden.

Southern Grass-tree is not commonly seen in cultivation in the US but is one of the most common and widely distributed species in Australia, ranging from southeastern New South Wales to north-eastern South Australia south to the eastern coastal regions of Tasmania. Xanthorrhoea is a genus with about 30 species endemic to Australia that was once included in the large lily family, the Liliaceace, but taxonomists later placed it in its own family that also included such genera as Kingia, Dasypogon and Lomandra. The current nomenclature has it in its own subfamily, the Xanthorrhoeoideae, as part of the large Asphodel family, the Asphodelaceae, which includes such other such familiar plants as Aloe, Bulbine, Dianella, Hemerocallis, Kniphofia and Phormium. Though often associated with succulents or trees, the Xanthorrhoea are actually long-lived perennials with secondary thickening wood-like meristem forming in the stems.

The name for the genus comes from the Greek words 'xanthos', meaning "yellow" and 'rheo' meaning "to flow" in reference to the resin of this plant that was collected from around the base of the stem by Aboriginal Australians who heated and rolled it into balls and used it for various purposes. The specific epithet means "from the south" or "southern" in reference to this plant range through southern Australia. This species is also commonly called Austral Grass-tree and other common names for Xanthorrhoea include grasstree, grass gum-tree (for the resin-yielding species), kangaroo tail. An early colonial name was "blackboy", but this name is now appropriately considered offensive and politically incorrect. This name was purportedly based on the look of the fire blackened trunks with foliage and tall inflorescence spike emerging at the top appearing as similar to that of an Aboriginal man holding an upright spear. We list this name here strictly for its historical significance and not to suggest it ever be used now as common name. Our plants from seed collected from selected specimens in their natural habitat in Australia by Atilla Kapitany, plant explorer, lecturer and author of Australian Grass Trees Xanthorrhoea and Kingia and Australian Succulent Plants and also from seed collected from a mature plant of this species that is growing at Franceschi Park. 

This information about Xanthorrhoea australis displayed is based on research conducted in our horticultural library and from reliable online resources. We also will relate observations made about it as it grows in our nursery gardens and other gardens we have visited, as well how the crops have performed in containers in our nursery field. We will also incorporate comments that we receive from others and we welcome hearing from anyone with additional information, particularly if they can share any cultural information that would aid others in growing it.