Five Best Feature trees: Focusing on Grass Trees

Feature trees are unique or unusual trees that can be used as the main “feature” of a landscape or garden design. They can be trees that have a specific shape, a brilliant color, or a unique characteristic that can easily make them the most noticeable item in the area. The following five best feature trees belong to a loose category called “grass trees.”

Grass trees have certain unique features, including (just for starters) that they are not true trees, nor are they grasses. In point of fact, they most closely resemble the lily family – day lilies, in particular. Most grass trees are monocots. These are plants that put up a single shoot from a seed instead on a shoot that quickly develops two secondary leaves. Almost universally, they have a top knot, or several branches with top knots that closely resemble grass, in that they have long, narrow leaf blades that grow in a dense cluster. Another primary characteristic is that instead of having an actual trunk, like a tree, their “trunks” are made up of leaf blades that have folded together and become melded using the plant’s own sap.

The best-known grass trees belong to four types: Xanthorrhea, found in Australia; dasylirion longissimum, found in Mexico; richea pandanifolia, from Tasmania; and dracophyllum, which resembles dragon tree but is a different species. The dragon tree itself could be considered a “grass tree” since it grows grass-like foliage at the ends of its branches. Under this heading, the Tree Aloe (Aloidendron barberae) could also be thought of as a grass tree.

Regardless of whether the plant is a monocot or dicot, these odd looking trees are sufficiently unusual to make an excellent showing as a feature plant in your garden or landscaped terrain. Here are five “best” feature trees of the grass tree type.

Five “Best” Feature Trees of the Grass Tree type:

  • Glauca Grass Tree (xanthorrhoea glauca) Perhaps one of the best known, and certainly unique, grass trees is the glauca grass tree. This ancient species is native to Australia, and can be somewhat finicky to get started in a new home. The reason is that this grass tree requires a specific sort of mycorrhiza in the soil. These microscopic creatures interact with the roots, helping the tree absorb nutrients. These Australian natives sport a thatch of long, sharp needle leaves at the top of a stem. In season, they put up long bloom stalks that proliferate with attractive, waxy, white blossoms that are much loved by local pollinators of all sorts.
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  • Mexican Grass Tree (Dasylirion Longissimum) Yucca plants are well known from the northern part of Mexico, up through the central part of the USA, as far north as Missouri.
    • Yucca Filifera is the largest of the tree yuccas. Frequently seen in northern Mexico and southern Texas, it makes an excellent low-water consumption plant. It can be used as a landscaping substitute for palm trees, especially since it will grow in areas where palms would require extensive irrigation. During their blooming season, they put up a tall central stalk that grows out of the grasslike knot of leaves at the ends of branches or at the top of a single stalk.
    • Yucca Rostrata is another tree yucca. In many ways, it is quite similar to yucca filifera, but it gets its name from the distinct shape of both blossoms and seeds, which resemble a birds beak. Like filifera, it is an excellent choice for a low-water consumption planting area. Since it is tall, it can rise above other xeriscape garden plants, providing a central focus or even a backdrop.
  • Dragon Tree (Dracaena Draco) is a special sort of plant no matter where it is grown. Its red sap, frequently marketed as “dragon blood” can be used in a variety of ways, ranging from medicine to a glossy red finish on fine woodwork. Dragon trees are very slow growing, and make excellent container plants in areas that are too cold for these unique succulents to be grown
  • Tree Aloe (Aloidendron barberae) has its origins in Africa. In the right environment, it can grow to be a huge tree featuring clusters of plump leaves that strongly resemble the humble aloe vera plant. At a distance, these clusters can resemble leaves of grass growing on the ends of the branches. This makes the tree aloe an honorary member of the “grass tree” group. With that said, the leaves of tree aloes have many of the same healing properties as aloe vera, the charming, easy-to-grow succulent that is prized in many kitchens for its ability to sooth burns.

Any of these trees, and many others, can be used as a feature tree in your architectural planning. They can be a marvelous choice around which to plan other plantings or beds.



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