Xanthorrhoea Glauca Grass Tree, as noted a few weeks ago, is native to Australia. It grows very well here at Designer Trees, where we are harvest and cultivate it. This is an important point, because it is one of the many plants that should not be taken from public parks or lands.
The Glauca Grass Tree can be started from seeds. It is a survivor and can handle both lack of moisture for an extended time, as well as cold. It actually profits from light grass fire that burn away competing small vegetation, help remove the heavy skirt of dried fronds and encourage the seeds to pop out of their pods. That doesn’t mean going out and indiscriminately setting your grass tree alight. Although this is a time-honored method of trimming grass trees, fire should always be handled with extreme caution no matter where you live. There are other ways of trimming your grass tree, although its fronds are very tough.
There is a delightful book available from Project Gutenberg, called How does a Tree Grow: Botany for Young Australians by James Bonwick as part of a series of books for Australian school children. Published in 1857, it approaches explaining the life of trees through a “dear gentle reader” style of writing which can be somewhat off-putting. But get past the writing style, and he makes a creditable effort at explaining the science of plants at an elementary school level.
In this book, the father takes his son out into the wilds, hands him an axe and asks him to cut down a strange-looking tree. (Do keep in mind that this is in the 1850’s.) The lad takes several strong swings wat the “tree” with his axe, but it mostly just bounces back off it. Puzzled, he demands an explanation, so the father begins a lengthy question and answer session concerning Monocotyledons, the structure of monocots and of the grass tree in particular. Hmmm. Upon re-reading, perhaps it was funnier in the book. It is a free download, available to anyone, so don’t take my word for it.
Monocotyledons are plants with a single cotyledon. A cotyledon is part of the seed of a plant. As the word segment “mono” implies, there is only one per seed. As the cotyledon begins to grow, it turns into the initial leaves of the plant. As grass trees grow, they turn into what appears to be a fuzzy clump of grass. As they mature, the lower fronds droop down. As the plant slowly (so very slowly) grows upward, the fronds form a protective barrier around the stem.
After about seven years, your patience might be rewarded with a single tall bloom stalk, that is around a meter in length. It is covered with white, waxy blooms that are adored by bees, including carpenter bees which are the largest bee in Australia. After pollination, the waxy blooms turn into a tall, lance-like formation that is studded with little pockets where seeds are beginning to form. Birds love these. If you want to harvest the seeds, watch for when the birds start to flock to the seed stalk. That will be the best time to start seed harvest.
Once the seeds are harvested, they can be planted in a sandy loam. Germination can take up to thirty days. You will want to keep the soil moist, but not too wet. Like many plants native to arid locations, grass trees are not fond of wet feet.
Finally, as your little grass tree puts up its first shoots or even before the first shoots appear, it is a good idea to inoculate the soil surrounding it with mycorrhiza found beneath or near mature grass tree plants. The mycorrhiza found under grass trees grow in a symbiotic relationship with the trees. The fungus helps the roots process water, loosens the soil, and helps with nutrient absorption. The mycorrhiza doesn’t have any leaves or stems of its own to be able to reach up to the sun, so the grass tree takes care of that part for both.
You can encourage the mycorrhiza by mixing a cup of brown sugar in a twelve-gallon bucket of water, and pouring it around the roots of a grass tree that is planted outdoors. Gauge the amount of sugar liquid for a container plant by considering the amount of liquid you would normally use in watering. You probably will only need to do this once a month until the baby tree is established.
Once they get going, glauca grass trees will grow just about anywhere. They are not super picky about soil, they love the sun but will tolerate a little shade and are pretty hardy for moderately cold weather. If they get caught in an ordinary brush fire, it will burn away the foliage, but a well-established grass tree will quickly start putting out fresh shoots and might even be encouraged to bloom. Fortunately, you don’t have to set them alight to get the blooms, just wait a little bit and it will happen.