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Victorian Christmas Bush or Coranderrk

December 2012 Prostanthera lasianthos

– Posted in: Plant of the Month

Prostanthera lasianthos
Coranderrk – Victorian Christmas Bush

Apart from being seasonally appropriate, this is a great plant for a number of reasons. It is an attractive and useful landscape shrub which is indigenous to the Melbourne region and has an interesting connection with for local Wurrundjeri people.

It gets its festive English common name for the prolific blooms of small white to lavender flowers that occur around Christmas time. Perhaps to early white settlers it gave the evocative appearance of being covered in snow. While this would be an odd occurrence in an Australian bush setting in summer, it is still a fine sight if you come across it in its natural setting.

The Coranderrk is one of the mint bushes and occurs naturally from Queensland to Victoria in the moister, sheltered areas in and around the hills. It grows from 3 to 5 m high in a fairly erect manner with aromatic lance shaped foliage. It can be grown as a feature tree in a protected corner where it can provide a bit of brightness to a dank spot, or it can be planted out in groups for maximum impact in a landscape.

Because it is native to moist, protected areas, the Coranderrk does not tolerate drought well. Therefore using it in a position that is less exposed to hot, drying conditions would best. Along a south facing wall would work well where it can receive moist southerly weather.

The photo is from a specimen at the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, in the Lower Yarra River Habitat on Long Island. It’s a great spot to find local indigenous plants growing in an ornamental and naturalistic setting.

A trip to Healesville Sanctuary is also a good place to see the Christmas Bush along with a range of plants indigenous to the area and carefully grown and managed by horticultural staff. It’s a great example of local native plants being used to create a beautiful garden landscape.

Speaking of Healesville, this was the location of the Coranderrk Aboriginal mission station that was established in the nineteenth century.  Its name is not only significant of the tree that grows naturally around there but of its special qualities. The wood of the plant is particularly hard, which makes it useful as a fire stick. By rubbing a hard wood with a very soft one, such as the stem of a grass tree, you have a better chance of generating a fire. This made it special enough for the sticks to be a source of trade for the Wurrundjeri people to other clans where the Coranderrk didn’t grow naturally.

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