Garden inspiration: amazing coastal plant communities

Anyone who's spent any time in the Illawarra region is familiar with the escarpment, and knows it's covered in amazing rainforest. But rainforest is just one of the many different ecosystems that call this region home. I wanted to focus in this post on one that tends to get neglected, which is coastal saltmarsh. Locally, it's an endangered ecological community, meaning there just isn't that much of it to be seen. But the patches that remain are often beautiful and always interesting, and the plants that grow there can (if you can find them for sale) make outstandingly tough garden plants.

Saltmarsh flats with Samphire (Sarcocornia quinqueflora) in the foreground and Swamp Oaks (Casuarina glauca) in the background. Taken near Shoalhaven Heads by Katie Wright. 

Rushes (probably Sea Rush or Juncus krausii subsp. australiensis) growing in saline water. 

The plants of these areas are adapted to the harsh coastal conditions, but many are versatile and will grow in many other soils and respond well to extra water. 

Grey Mangrove (Avicennia marina). Image by Emma Rooksby. 

Not a species I can particularly recommend for gardening, the Grey Mangrove (Avicennia marina) is really a salt-water specialist. But I'm including it because many properties adjacent to Lake Illawarra have Grey Mangrove growing nearby, and it is worth appreciating the shiny foliage and incredible toughness of this species. As a bonus, it helps sequester carbon in the soil ('blue carbon') and so has potential to mitigate climate change. Read more in this ABC article.

Sea Celery (Apium prostratum) and friends. Image by Emma Rooksby.   

It's hard to tell what's in there, I know, but it's mostly Sea Celery (Apium prostratum) with a bit of Ruby Saltbush (Enchylaena tomentosa) and some Samphire (Sarcocornia quinqueflora) in the bottom right of the picture. There's sandy soil in the container, and a layer of black plastic in the bottom, with just a couple of slashes through it so that the water seeps out slowly. The container is an enamelled baby bath or similar found abandoned in a nature reserve in Berkeley. 


Ruby Saltbush (Enchylaena tomentosa) in fruit. Image by Tony Rodd, reproduced from Flickr under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

A closer shot of Ruby Saltbush (Enchylaena tomentosa) showing its pretty, edible fruit. This is an incredibly tough plant that I've seen growing in incredibly exposed conditions near the sea at Bass Point. I don't know how much it enjoys being endulged, though! 
On the right is a patch of Samphire (Sarcocornia quinqueflora) growing in relatively dry conditions. On the left is what I think is Austral Seablite (Suaeda australis). Both tough, attractive, and edible plants. Image by Russell Cumming. All rights reserved. 

Samphire is one plant I haven't seen in many gardens, although it is tough, edible and attractive. It's partly an issue of availability, and perhaps also a matter of getting your head around growing something that occurs naturally in saline conditions. But it is absolutely fine in a regular pot or soil, watered with regular tank or tap water. And it is delicious! 

And I haven't even got to the Pigface (Carpobrotus glaucescens) yet, although that species also meets all three of those criteria...
Pigface growing happily in suburbia! Image by Bob Foster. 

A word of caution, though, about sourcing these species. Many occur naturally only in threatened ecological communities, and taking plants (or any part of plants) from TECs is actually not permitted. So if you want to grow them, make sure to buy them from a reputable nursery. I have seen some of the above plants at Wollongong Botanic Garden GreenPlan Nursery, and also at Sutherland Shire Nursery. 

You can read more about coastal saltmarsh in this useful publication from the Department of Primary Industries and Environment.

Who has saltmarsh plants in their garden? 

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