Australia is the world's driest inhabited continent, and many native Australian plants are extremely tolerant to sun and drought. Some of the more than 1,100 plant species of northern Australia's Queensland rain forest, however, have adapted to a much wetter and shadier life beneath the forest canopy. Many of them have become popular shade garden plants.
Walking Stick Palm
This palm (Linospadix monostachya) grows in dense rain forest shade, preferring the wettest areas--up to 118 inches of rain per year--and thriving at altitudes of up to 3,900 feet. Its deep green leaves, reaching up to 10 feet, are interspersed with long, attractive clusters of bright red fruit. Started from fresh seeds and handled carefully, walking stick palm will do well in pots. Soak the seeds for 24 hours before planting them. Protect seedlings until they are between 6 and 8 inches tall, when their growth rate will increase. Larger palms tend to push out of the soil. Re-pot them as necessary.
Narrow-leaved gardenia (Atractocarpus chartaceus) is a shrub or small tree reaching up to 10 feet in height. It has deep-green, glossy pointed leaves and produces mildly fragrant white flowers of 1/2 inch in the late winter and early spring. Red-orange cylinder-shaped fruit follows the flowers. While the narrow-leaved gardenia grows wild in the rainforest understory, it has become a popular plant in ornamental gardens. It performs best in shady locations with well-drained soils and warm, wet climates. Grow it from fresh seeds or cuttings.
A small shrub, thomasia (Thomasia rhynchocarpa) grows between 18 inches and 5 feet high. It has rough, oblong green leaves and showy late-winter or early spring displays of 1/2-inch pink or purple flowers followed by capsules of black seeds. Thomasia does best in semi-shade with well-drained soil and is hardy in the temperate regions of Australia's southern coast, where summer temperatures do not climb as high as they do in the tropical and sub-tropical zones. Plants will grow from seed, but fresh cuttings have a higher rate of success.
Victorian Christmas Bush
Victorian Christmas Bush (Prostanthera lasianthos) is the largest of Australian's native mint bushes. Tolerating a wide range of growing conditions, it appears in the mountain rainforests and along the coasts. It grows to more than 15 feet in moist, shady rainforest locations. Its leaves release a noticeable menthol scent when bruised. Victorian Christmas Bush, according to the Australian National Botanic Gardens, makes a good screen for fences and does well in urban areas with regular watering and mulching. Its tapered leaves range from yellow-green to dark green, with toothed edges. The shrubs produce massed sprays of white, pale pink or mauve funnel-shaped flowers with purple and orange-blotched throats. Blooming is at its peak in November but may continue until January. Branches do well in cut flower arrangements. Victorian Christmas Bush grows easily from seeds or cuttings.