Fragrant Australian Natives for the Home Gardener
If you think that by growing Australian native plants, you'll be missing out on a fragrant garden then you are very much mistaken. There are a host of native plants which have wonderful aromas. Some are subtle, some are pungent and some are, well, just plain smelly.
In some species the fragrance in the foliage is released into the atmosphere as the day warms up. Others release their perfume following heavy rain and hail. Aromatic foliage oils are common to the eucalypts, melaleucas and tea-trees, all members of the Myrtaceae. Boronia, crowea and eriostemon all belong to the Rutaceae or citrus family.
Native plants which have lemon-scented foliage include Corymbia citriodora (once Eucalyptus citriodora) or lemon-scented gum and E.staigeriana, the lemon-scented ironbark, both native to Queensland. Tea-trees may also have lemon-scented foliage. Leptospermum petersoni and L.lieversidgei are two. Despite its botanical name of Callistemon citrinus, the red bottlebrush does not have much lemon fragrance to the leaves. Neither does Darwinia citriodora which is more spicy than lemony.
The lemon ironwood or lemon-scented myrtle (Backhousia citriodora) is a medium sized tree, endemic to Queensland rainforests and delightfully scented. When distilled the oil yield is good and the foliage produces a very pleasant lemon tea. Boronia citriodora from Tasmania has lemon foliage but B.tetrandra from Western Australia has aromatic light yellow bell-shaped flowers. B.citrata (eastern Victoria) has a pungent lemon fragrance too.
There are a number of grasses which are reminiscent of lemons too including Cymbopogon ambiguus, C. procerus and Elyonurus citreus.
If you like the smell of aniseed, try Crowea exalata, ; Aniseed tree and Backhousia anisata. Crowea exalata is a variable shrub which reaches about a metre tall and has long-lasting starry pink flowers through late summer and autumn.
Acacia leprosa has the common name of cinnamon wattle while Backhousia angustifolia has a curry perfume. The common name of Polyscias elegans is celery wood because of its aroma.
Three small to medium-sized shrubs which are all reminiscent of camphor are Baeckea camphorate, B. camphorosmae and Boronia pinnata.
Correas belong to the Citrus family but only a few have a fragrance. One which has a lovely fruity aroma is Correa baeuerlenii or Chef's Cap Correa. Eriostemon myoporoides has a strong fragrance which isn't to everyone's taste. Some fragrances are hard to describe but it is a sweet floral aroma akin to orange blossom.
Peppermint and/or mint
There are a number of native plants with peppermint or mint overtones. The broad-leaved peppermint, river peppermint, willow peppermint and narrow-leaved peppermint are all eucalypts. Several species of the Australian species of the genus Mentha smell of mint and have a limited use in the kitchen. Almost all of the Prostanthera genus or mint bushes have an attractive smell. The oil yield is not usually high but the aromatic water produced from distillation has its uses in aromatherapy circles. There are many Prostanthera varieties to choose from. P.cuneata or alpine mint bush gives off an uplifting fragrance simply by running your hand through the leaves. Another is Prostanthera melissifolia (Victoria) or Balm Mint Bush, renowned for the aromatic foliage. This species is fairly adaptable to a wide range of conditions and grows to about 2-3 metres high by 1-3 metres wide. The rounded lobed foliage emits a strong scent when crushed and on hot and rainy days its perfume will permeate the garden. The mauve to violet flowers are displayed en masse during October to December. Propagate from cuttings.
Leatherwood (Eucryphia lucida) is endemic to Tasmania. It is renowned as a nectar-producing tree and is used by apiarists as the source of Leatherwood Honey. It is generally slow-growing and needs moist soil conditions. It reaches a height of about 6 to 12 metres and has dark green, leathery leaves up to 5cm long. The white flowers are strongly perfumed, about 3 to 4cm in diameter and borne in spring and early summer. This tree can be propagated from cuttings or from seed. It is moderately frost resistant though often frost tender when young. It prefers an open position though not necessarily in full sun as it grows well in shade or semi-shade. It likes well-drained soil but grows in clay to clay-loam heavier type soils, moist soils, sandy to sandy loam and wet soils so it is not fussy about its planting medium. It will also withstand extended periods of waterlogged or very wet soil.
Hyenosporum flavum is native to Queensland and New South Wales. It is also called the native frangipani. It forms a small tree of 5 to 10 metres with shiny, dark-green leaves. It is usually quick growing and flowers in its third or fourth year. The deep cream to yellow flowers are produced in dense terminal clusters from September to November.
It has a beautiful sweet perfume. Plants may be grown close to the house as it has an upright growth habit. It is also useful as part of plantings round a boundary or as a lawn specimen if desired. It can be propagated from seed or cuttings. It will grow in protected coastal areas at the edge of the sea or with other plants that provide protection. It is susceptible to frost damage at all stages. It likes a hot, sunny, open position although it grows well in semi-shade. It can be planted in well-drained gravel, clay, clay-loam, sandy or wet soils.
Jacksonia scoparia, endemic to Queensland and New South Wales, is a large shrub 3 to 5 metres high and 2 to 3 metres wide. It has fine, greyish foliage and copious bright yellow to orange pea flowers from September to November. The perfume is soft and delicate. It will grow in coastal areas if it has some protection. It is moderately frost resistant, suitable for a range of conditions from hot, open, semi-shaded, well drained, gravel, clay, sand and wet positions.
Jasminum lineare is found in all states except Tasmania. It is also known as 'Desert Jasmine'. This Australian jasmine is a light open climber with narrow dark-green foliage. Pink budded white flowers are typical of the exotic jasmines but the perfume of the desert jasmine is not as strong. Flowering is mainly from September to December. It can be propagated from cuttings.
Leschenaultia floribunda (Western Australia) attracts butterflies, a good indication that the flowers are perfumed. It bears massed small pale blue flowers and grows to about 50 to 60 cm high and 0.5 to 1m wide with small, dense foliage. Flowering is from November to January. There are several forms of this species.
Two plants which do have a high oil yield are Eucalyptus polybractea or blue-leaved mallee and Melaleuca alternifolia. The first produces eucalyptus oil, highly valued for its cleaning, lubrication and medicinal uses. The second gives tea-tree oil, used as an anti-fungal agent and as an antiseptic and disinfectant.
And finally, we come to the less than pleasant aromas. Boronia anemonifolia var. variabilis has a strong, turpentine-like aroma which can cause headaches or worse in susceptible people. Banksia media and B.praemorsa have flower-spikes which are reminiscent of two-day-old meat pies. On a warm day, Persoonia flowers can be quite unpleasant. Grevillea leucopteris has the common name of 'smelly socks'. Hakea denticulata, Hibbertia scandens and Tetratheca all have odours rather than fragrances.