Try growing: native Illawarra foliage plants

New foliage of Guioa (Guioa semiglauca). Image by Emma Rooksby.
When people start talking about 'foliage plants' my brain goes into meltdown. Aren't all plants foliage plants? (Well, technically, no, but we'll get to that another time.) In gardener-speak it's basically a term used to designate plants whose foliage is sufficiently appealing that people might grow them just for their foliage, rather than expecting beautiful flowers or fruit as well. 

A leaf of the Fruit Salad Plant (Monstera deliciosa). Photograph by Forest and Kim Starr. Reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. 

Many familiar foliage plants receive the epithet because their leaves are unusually shaped (think Fruit Salad Plant (Monstera deliciosa)), particularly small or large (yes, Fruit Salad Plant), unusually coloured, or even variegated (yep, that Fruit Salad Plant again!). Plant breeders and nurseries seem to specialise in producing specimens with ever brighter and more lurid leaves, with names like 'Lime Surprise,' 'Gold Rush' or 'Flaming Nellie' (sorry, I made those names up).

Yet so many of our local native plants have beautiful foliage for part of all of the year - they don't need to compete with large and showy flowers or fruit! All you need to do is look around and you'll see interesting shapes, colours, textures and patterns. Here are just a few foliage plants I spotted on a recent walk at Puckey's Estate in Fairy Meadow. 

Backlit leaves of the Coastal Wattle (Acacia longifolia subsp. sophorae). Image by Emma Rooksby.
White Correa (Correa alba) is sometimes grown as a hedging plant where its leaves are shown to advantage. Here, in the harsh conditions of the coastal dunes, the amazing contrast between the upper and lower leaf surfaces is on display.  Image by Emma Rooksby. 
Pigface (Carpobrotus glaucescens) is often grown for its hardiness and colourful pink flowers. In harsh conditions, the leaves can also turn reddish-pink.  Image by Emma Rooksby.
Another case where harsh conditions induce interesting colours. This is a Native Geranium (Pelargonium australe). One stem appears to be dying off, with the leaves losing their natural chlorophyll-derived green colouring and turning reddish-orange.  Image by Emma Rooksby.

Brisbane Laurel (Pittosporum revolutum) produces striking flushes of new leaves after good rain.  Image by Emma Rooksby.

Coastal Banksia (Banksia integrifolia) can also produce striking flushes of new growth. Sometimes, particularly in gardens, these may be quite yellowish as a result of nutrient deprivation, such as an iron deficiency. These new leaves are a healthy pale green. Image by Emma Rooksby.

Too good not to feature again, this is another Brisbane Laurel (Pittosporum revolutum) shrub, growing right by the walking track through Puckey's Estate. The new leaves are softly felty and show a range of colours from fawns and yellows through to peachy tones.  Image by Emma Rooksby.
None of these species is conventionally known as a native 'foliage plant.' And almost none made it onto the official Growing Illawarra Natives list of foliage plants, which you can view here. I think it just goes to show how interesting and amazing our local plants are once you start to keep an eye out!

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