UC Santa Cruz Arboretum: Australian Garden

To read part 1 of my visit to the University of California Santa Cruz Arboretum, please click here.

With more than 2,000 different species, the Australian Garden at UCSC Arboretum claims to have the largest collection of Australian plants outside of Australia. As with the South African Garden, what impressed me was the naturalistic layout. I didn’t feel like I was walking through a man-made space but rather through a natural environment. Admittedly, this naturalistic effect is easier to achieve with trees and shrubs than with small bedding plants, but the lack of artifice was refreshing nonetheless.

As befits a world-class collection of antipodean natives, the Arboretum has impressive eucalyptus specimens, including the ones you see in the first group of photos. While some eucalyptus (or “gum trees,” as they’re commonly referred to in Australia) are fairly common in Northern California, there are so many different species (about 700) that any botanical garden can only scratch the surface.

Darling Range ghost gum (Eucalyptus laeliae)
Candlebark (Eucalyptus rubida)
Candlebark (Eucalyptus rubida)
Snow gum (Eucalyptus pauciflora)
Snow gum (Eucalyptus pauciflora)
Albany blackbutt (Eucalyptus staeri)

Having a soft spot for spiky-leafed plants such as nolinas, yuccas, and hesperaloes, it doesn’t come as a surprise that I’m a big fan of xanthorrhoeas (say that five times fast). Sometimes called the Australian grass tree, this is a very slow-growing plant, eventually growing to impressive heights. As Wikipedia says, “while a five-metre [15 ft.] tall member of the fastest growing Xanthorrhoea may be 200 years old, a member of a more slowly-growing species of equal height may have aged to 600 years.”

Outside of Australia, xanthorrhoeas are rare indeed. The specimen in the following photos is just beginning to come into its own. I look forward to revisiting it in 10 years.

Xanthorrhoea australis
Xanthorrhoea australis

Moving on to flowering bushes, the first I saw in the Australian Garden was this Christmas bush (Correa reflexa), called that because it flowers in the winter (this one must have been early). Native to eastern Australia, these bushes are reputed to be easy to grow. This is the first I’ve seen in the U.S. so I’m not sure how common they are on our shores.

Correa reflexa

When we visited our friends in Sydney a couple of years ago, one of my favorite shrubs was the grevillea. I was hoping to see more of them at the UCSC Aboretum, but I only found the one in the next photo, and it was just a bit past its prime. Grevilleas are in the Proteaceae family, together with many of the South African shrubs I talked about in my previous post. Like all Proteaceae, it needs a mild climate to thrive.

Grevillea species

Yet another member of the Proteaceae family is the genus Banksia. Banksias are among the most iconic Australian plants. Their impressive flowers are rich in nectar and therefore a significant food source for many animals, including birds, rodents, possums, bats, and bees. In addition, banksia wood is often made into ornamental pieces; some of them can be seen here.

In the garden, banksias add a flair of the unusual and dramatic. Unfortunately, a frost-free climate is a requirement, which severely limits the areas in the U.S. where they can be grown successfully. But even if you’ll never have a banksia light up your own yard, you can enjoy them vicariously in the photos below.

Banksia speciosa, both old and new flowers
Banksia speciosa, new flower still a few weeks from being in full bloom.
Also check out the fantastic leaves.
Banksia speciosa, old flowers
Banksia speciosa, old flower and new leaves emerging
Banksia speciosa, seed cone
Banksia speciosa, seed cones
Banksia baxteri flower
Banksia baxteri flower and one-of-a-kind leaves.
I don’t know of any other plant that has leaves quite like these.
Banksia grandis
Banksia grandis seed cones and immature flowers
Banksia grandis seed cone
Banksia attenuata in bloom
Banksia attenuata in bloom. This was the only banksia that was in full flower.
And what flowers they were!
Banksia attenuata
Banksia attenuata. Check out the ants in the photo on the right. Ants may, indeed, be one of the pollinators of banksias although the literature isn’t conclusive.

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  1. Hi, I have just found your site when I typed in
    E Staeri, my great grandfather discovered this variation, John Staer.

    cheers Galinda Wood nee STAER


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