Spikey survivors

Bursaria spinosa in Penneshaw

Sweet bursaria (Bursaria spinosa) is part of the coastal landscape in my town. Some long-term residents have described to me how they played among the large bushes on the sand dunes behind Hog Bay beach, when they were young.

In South Australia and Tasmania it’s sometimes called Christmas bush, because of the time of its flowering, but that seems to be a very variable feast and many bushes are still flowering now in early February.

The wide distribution of the species, from southern Queensland to Tasmania to Eyre Peninsula in South Australia may be the reason why it has so many common names. Here are a few more: mock orange, native box, native olive, prickly box, prickly pine, spiny box, spiny bursaria, Australian blackthorn, blackthorn, native blackthorn, thorn box and whitethorn.

Around these parts it’s blackthorn and few seem to like it – the chosen name is a bit of a giveaway. In fact it was pulled out of a planting a few years ago because ‘it would be dangerous for the children’. I’ve noticed a few more beauties near pathways have disappeared just recently.

I don’t subscribe to the common view around town and rejoice in the gorgeous white-flowering beauties at the back of the dunes and out of the way.

When my father died in 2008, my friends at the Kangaroo Island Natural Resources Management Board, where I worked at the time, gave me a Bursaria seedling from the KI Native Plant Nursery. It’s now thriving beside the path to my front door (and no children have been harmed).

Spikes and spines are very much part of the Australian landscape and with good reason. Leaves and shoots reduced to spines help a plant to conserve water and survive in our dry habitats. They keep the herbivores at bay.

And now that we have so many introduced predators, the protection the spines afford small birds and marsupials is even more important.

Bursaria attracts invertebrate animal life such as butterflies and moths, beetles, which are its main pollinators, and ants. The interactions are complex and fascinating – they would make a post of their own.



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