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Murray Mallee, South Australia

flowers, foliage

Natural populations

Eremophila longifolia is a shrub or small tree up to 8 m tall that is widespread throughout almost all of the drier parts of Australia [17]. It is absent from wetter coastal belt along the eastern coast, southern Victoria and south-western Western Australia [5]. It occurs in a variety of Eucalyptus and Acacia woodlands or shrublands and is common in both the sand plains and rocky ranges [5]. This species tolerates a wide range in climate types, surviving in areas with high temperatures and coping well with variable and unpredictable rainfall patterns [23]. It grows in a wide variety of soil types, though rarely on heavy alluvial clays [2] and can be found in both calcareous and acidic loams [18]. It recovers well after fire, even in the juvenile stage [17]. It is very drought tolerant and its foliage persists during dry conditions [18]. Eremophila longifolia is a very well defined species, though within the species there is considerable variation [5].

Flowering and seeds

In Western Australia, the plant produces red flowers from March to November [37]; all year round in New South Wales Riverina district [11]; whereas in southern Queensland it is mostly in spring – summer [14]. It appears the plant will always produce some flowers regardless of climate and season however the current season's rainfall is a vitally important element for flowers to turn into fruit [23]. Fruiting times also vary with geographic location with records for April to May in the Kimberley, Western Australia [13] and for January to March in South Australia [12]. Seeds are released quickly following maturity, in 3-14 days [11].  Fruits are either collected from the tree or typically from freshly dropped fruits beneath them. The species produces fruits from the branches (ramiflory) or from the trunk (cauliflory) [5].

Eremophila seed in general has been found to be difficult to germinate by propagators. Plants are generally reproduced from cuttings. The hard woody fruits have physical and chemical inhibitors that delay germination [122]. Seed germination is greatly improved once it is excised from the hard fruit covering [122] although this may be difficult to do in the case of Eremophila longifolia [123].  Natural weathering processes of fire, wet and dry seasonal cycling and abrasive soil movement will eventually break down hard fruit coats and stimulate germination [122].

The usual form of Eremophila longifolia is that of a small tree or tall shrub often surrounded by a circle of smaller plants regenerated from seed or root suckering [17]; it can form dense clonal stands [5].  It is best established by transplanting root suckers in moist conditions, or by fencing out stock and ripping to promote root suckering [11]. A grey leaved form (with a shrubby habit) in south east Western Australia does not exhibit a root suckering growth habit [pers. comm. Andrew Brown, Department of Environment and Conservation, Western Australia). The fruits of the Eremophila are regularly eaten by emus [12].

Cultivation and uses

Eremophila longifolia is an important ritual plant used extensively during Aboriginal ceremonies and for other ritual processes in Central Australia. It could be said to be the most sacred of all Central Australian plants [3]. It is considered to have important medicinal properties [3]. As the best fodder plant of the Eremophila species, it is constantly trimmed by stock and is sometimes cut for drought feed [17]. It is best used as part of a varied diet. If sheep or cattle are fed exclusively on E. longifolia they are likely to poison themselves [23]. It can usually be eaten in larges quantities with no ill effects and no field cases of poisoning have been recorded [17]. Among its other uses are as an excellent low level cover in windbreaks, in soil erosion control due to soil binding fibrous roots and using the bruised leaves for tanning skins [11]. The plant is of high wildlife value for habitat and as a honey source [2].

Key descriptors:
Climate parameters
Mean annual rainfall: 100-800 mm
Rainfall distribution pattern: summer, uniform or winter
Mean annual temperature: 12-26 °C
Mean max. temperature of the hottest month: 29-39 °C
Mean min. temperature of the coldest month: 2-14 °C
Frosts (approx. no. per year): greater than 20
Frost intensity: light to moderate (0 to -5°C)
Altitude: 0-750 metres
Tolerance of extremes in climate
Drought: known to be tolerant of protracted droughts
Fire: regenerates foliage after damaging fire
Frost: tolerates frosts in the 0° to -5°C range
Wind: known or has attributes to make an excellent windbreak
Soil factors
Texture: clay loam, cracking clays, heavy clay (greater than 50% clay), light to medium clay (35-50% clay), loam, sandy loam, sandy clay loam or sand
Soil pH reaction: acidic (less than 6.5)
Soil depth: moderate to deep (30-100 cm or greater)
Drainage:  well-drained
Biological traits under cultivation
Habit: evergreen shrub less than 2 m tall or shrub or small tree less than 5 m tall
Root system: forms root suckers
Erosion control potential: excellent for clayey sites or excellent for sandy sites
Windbreak potential: excellent (known or has good attributes)
Shade tolerance: grows best in full sunlight
Uses
Potential farm use: excellent windbreak
Traditional Aboriginal uses: medicinal
Potentially undesirable attributes
Growth habit: mod. to strong propensity to root sucker

References

[2] Carr D (2000) Plants in Your Pants II: a pocket guide to the trees and shrubs of the North West Plains of NSW. Greening Australia NSW, Armidale.

[3] Latz Peter K (1995) Bushfires and bushtucker: Aboriginal plant use in Central Australia. IAD Press, Alice Springs.

[5] Chinnock RG (2007) Eremophila and Allied Genera: a monograph of the plant family Myoporaceae. The Botanic Gardens and State Herbarium, Department of Environment & Heritage, Government of South Australia.

[11] Kent K, Earl G, Mullins B, Lunt I, Webster R (2002) Native Vegetation Guide for the Riverina: notes for land managers on its management and revegetation. Charles Sturt University, NSW.

[12] Berkinshaw T (2006) Native Vegetation of the Northern and Yorke Region. Greening Australia, South Australia.

[14] Stanley TD, Ross EM (1983 to 1995) Plants of South-East Queensland. Volumes 1-3, Queensland Government, Brisbane.

[17] Cunningham GM, Mulham WE, Milthorpe PL, Leigh JH (1992) Plants of western New South Wales. Inkata Press, Port Melbourne, Victoria.

[18] Mitchell A, Wilcox D (1994) Arid shrubland plants of Western Australia. University of Western Australia Press, Perth.

[23] Australian Society for Growing Australian Plants (1999) Australian Plants Online - weeping emubush Eremophila longifolia. (Online resource) http://asgap.org.au/APOL15/sep99-2.html (Accessed November 2007).

[37] Paczkowska G, Chapman AR (2000) The Western Australian Flora - A Descriptive Catalogue. Publishers: Wildflower Society of Western Australia, Western Australian Herbarium, CALM and the Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority,Western Australia.

Internet links

PlantNet NSW Flora Online – species description & distribution: http://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Eremophila~longifolia

FloraBase Western Australia Herbarium Flora Online – species description & distribution: http://florabase.calm.wa.gov.au/browse/profile/7234

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