Xanthorrhoea preissii (Western Australian Grass Tree) - This plant is hard to classify - we put it with succulents as it seems to fit best with them in the gardens, but it is really an evergreen woody perennial. It can reach nearly tree-like proportions and has 2- to 4-foot-long blue-green stiff grass-like leaves radiating from the center of an upright, occasionally branching, woody trunk. It is slow growing, but trunks ultimately can reach to 9 feet tall with a diameter of 4-8 feet in its native habitat but in cultivation it is rare to see plants more than 6 feet tall by a similar width. When plants mature (7-10+ years) they begin blooming it sends up a 6- to 10-foot-tall erect stalk, called a scape, that holds a small white star shaped flowers in a spike over half the length of the scape. Flowering most often occurs in spring, but it can be at other times as well and it is often several years between flowerings. These flowers are very attractive to bees and the plant will hold the flower stalk, which turns dark brown, long after the plant finishes flowering.
Plant in full sun to light shade in a well-drained soil where it can tolerate regular irrigation, occasional or even very dry conditions. Hardy to at least 20° F. It is very slow growing and long lived and makes for a dramatic plant in the landscape or even in a large pot. It is a fire adapted species in the wild that often has the leaves burnt off leaving a blackened trunk with only newly emerging leaves - in areas where fire is discouraged, the lower leaves can be removed every few years to expose the trunk - they are easier to snap off by hand near the base than to cut but one must wear sturdy gloves, as leaf edges are sharp.
Xanthorrhoea preissii is native to forest and woodland areas from around Geraldton on the west coast south to Albany in Western Australia. 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 honors the German botanist Johann August Ludwig Preiss (1811–1883) who collected more than 2,700 species of plants in Western Australia as well as many birds, reptiles, insects and molluscs. The common name in Australia is Balga and the politically correct name is the Western Australian Grass Tree. 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.
Information about Xanthorrhoea preissii displayed on this page is based on our research about it conducted in our library and gathered from reliable online sources. We include observations made of this plant as it grows in our nursery gardens and in other gardens that we have visited, as well as how the crops have performed in containers in our own nursery field. We will also incorporate comments that we receive from others about this plant when we feel it adds information and particularly welcome hearing from anyone who has any additional cultural recommendations that would aid others in growing it.