Since most of Australia is covered by desert, most native plants have evolved to survive dry, arid weather. But not all of Australia is desert. There are temperate rain forests in Tasmania and a tropical zone in the Northern Territory. Although it is impossible to list all the plants native to Australia, here are some of the well-known and unusual.
The Australian heath, a subfamily of Ericaceae, produces a long, trumpet-shaped flower. The pink variety, the floral emblem of Victoria, is found along the eastern and southern coasts.
Banksia, Boab and Bunyan
Seventy-five species of Banksia, Proteaceae, have cone-shaped flowers in small clusters. Banksia inhabits both the tropics and the desert, although 80 percent of the species are found in Southwest Australia.
The Boab tree, Adansonia gregorii, also called the Bottle tree, drops its leaves during the dry season and has roots that can spread to 30 feet on either side. The Boab thrives in the deserts of western Australia and stores water in its trunk that can grow to 60 feet wide.
Bush tomatoes, Solanum centrate, also called the Australian desert raisin is small, thorny bush that can lie dormant for years waiting for rain. The small, yellow, pungent-tasting berries of the Bush tomato look like raisins when they dry on the bush.
The bunya pine, Araucaria bidwillii, native to southwestern Queensland, grows to 150 feet high, with prickly leaves and pine cones that contains edible seeds.
Cabbage Palms, Callistemons
Cabbage palms, Livistona mariae, grow only in the Central Australian desert. Their thin trunks, with short branches of green leaves sprouting from the top, can reach 90 feet high.
Some 34 species of Callistemons, aka Bottlebrush, are common in New South Wales. Its bright orange, red, white or green petals branch from the flower like a brush.
Desert Grass Tree, Desert oak
The Desert Grass Tree, Xanthorrhoea thorntonii, is found scattered about desert sand. After a fire its blackened stalks resemble human figures, hence the Aboriginal name, Balga Grass, or black boy.
The desert oak, allocasuarina decaisneana, from 30 to 60 feet tall, is found in swales between sand dunes in in central Australia. It loses its soft, feathery leaves when there is no water.
Corymbia aparrerinja, an evergreen, is known as the ghost gum because of its smooth white bark. It lives in dry creek beds, rocky slopes, and sand flats.
MacDonnell Ranges Cycad
The MacDonnell Ranges cycad, Macrozamia macdonnelli, short and fat, resembling palm trees, grows in gorges and rocky ranges and gorges in Central Australia.
Porcupine grass, Trjodia sp, has hard waxy leaves that roll into tight vertical spikes to prevent loss of water.
River She-Oak, Rough Tree Ferns
River She-Oak, Casuarina cunninghamiana, a large, spreading tree with deciduous, needle-like branches, grows on the coastal areas of eastern and southern Australia.
Two varieties of tree fern, Cyathea spp, are found in Eastern Australian rain forests. Their trunks rise as high as 60 feet, topped by spreading ferns that spread out like an umbrella.
Saltbrush, Sturt's Desert Pea
Australian saltbrush, Atriplex semibaccata, is a low-growing, silvery-gray succulent that forms foot-tall dense mats that spread up to 6 feet wide. Saltbrush stores water in its fat leaves that also extrude salt.
Sturt's Desert Pea, Clianthus formosus, creeps along the ground in central and northwestern Australia. Its striking, blood-red flowers grow from a small pea-shaped black ball.
Triodia, a grass also called spiniflex in Australia, grows in deserts; true spiniflex grows along the coast. A perennial with thin leaves, it forms thick balls that grow into hummocks.
The official flower of New South Wales, the Waratah, Telopea speciosissima, is a stout shrub with dark green leaves; it grows to 12 inches high with crimson flowers 3 to 5 inches wide.
Australia has more than 900 species of wattle, members of the acacia family. They produce white, cream or yellow flowers shaped like balls or rods.