Plant of the Month — February 2010
Olearia axillaris (DC.) Benth.
This erect, much-branched shrub to 3 m high, is common in coastal areas of Western Australia. Its silvery-white foliage can be found from Karratha in the north to Eyre in the south-east, but especially on the Swan Coastal Plain and southern coast. Inland populations occur in the Avon Wheatbelt and the Coolgardie bioregion. The insignificant flowers of this shrub come in shades of white to cream to yellow and bloom from November to July. Its soil preferences are varied and include white, grey and red sands or loam on coastal limestone, sand dunes or rocky hillsides.
The genus Olearia belongs to the family Asteraceae and was named after German botanist Adam Olschlager, (1603-71) who latinised his name to Olearius. ‘Latinising’ of personal surnames was common practice with botanists of the 17th and 18th centuries. The species name axillaris comes from the Latin axilla or arm-pit, botanically referring to the flower heads growing from the axil - the angle between the upper surface of a leaf or leaf-stalk and the stem or branch on which it grows. This species is one of 130 in the genus Olearia. It was first named Eurybia axillaris by the Swiss botanist A.P. Candolle (1778-1841) but its placement was revised to its current position by English botanist George Bentham (1800-1884) in the third volume of the Flora Australiensis, published in 1867.
This is a plant that is very easy to grow, insect attracting, very drought tolerant and can be propagated from cuttings; it is available from most native plant nurseries. The leaves make an attractive contrast either in the bushland or a garden. Olearia axillaris will tolerate severe pruning, hot dry conditions and a great variation of soil types, making it an ideal plant for Western Australian gardens.
Photo: K.C. Richardson
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