Ground covers cool the earth in tiny forests

When you think of a forest, you probably think of trees. Whilst trees are essential to a forest, there are other plants that are important too. Some of these plants include shrubs, climbers and ground covers.

If you look closely at a forest, you will notice plants jumbled together. These plants are randomly spaced and compete for light, nutrients and water. And plants are a range of different heights, some have just germinated, some have died and some are in their prime.

Tiny forests popping up in Canberra

The Climate Factory works with community leaders to build climate cooling micro or tiny forests. Over 2020-2021 we built the Downer and Watson Micro-forests. We are trialling a range of native groundcovers in our tiny forests.

Groundcovers a living mulch in the tiny forest

At the bottom of our forests are the groundcovers. They have a special role to play. They cool the ground and provide habitat for beetles, skinks and lizards. Eventually the forest will become too shady for many of them and leaf litter may take their place.

Below are three groundcovers we are trialling at the Downer and Watson micro-forests.

Hardy Hardenbergia

Hardenbergia violacea (False sarsparilla) is an understorey plant of native forests and woodlands. It grows as a groundcover or twines itself through shrubs. It’s in the pea family and bears purple flowers. You will often see it flowering in the bush at the same time as wattle. This signals winter is almost over.

Purple flowering Hardenbergia growing amongst wattle.

False sarsparilla has leathery dark green leaves and once established is drought and frost hardy.

ACT for Bees says, Hardenbergia flowers provide food for butterflies, European Honey bees and native Leaf-cutter bees.

This groundcover can be grown from pre-treated seed. To pre-treat seeds, soak overnight in hot water. This should break the seed dormancy. Then plant the seeds in a mix of 50:50 coarse river sand to native potting mix. Depending on conditions, seed should germinate within 10 days to three weeks.

Marvellous Myoporum

This is a fast growing groundcover that comes in two forms. Plants can have either a fine leaf or broader leaf. Myoporum parvifolium is also known as Creeping boobialla. The plant bears small white or pink flowers and creates a living mulch over the ground.

At the Watson Micro-forest we planted it at the forest edges. This is so it gets enough sun to grow happily.

Myoporum parvifolium is easy to grow from cuttings.

Creeping boobialla can be grown readily from cuttings.

Tasty Tetragonia

This sprawling groundcover, Tetragonia tetragonoides is also known as Warrigal greens. It is has edible leaves. Captain Cook is rumoured to have used its leaves to stop his crew getting scurvy. 

silver saltbush on the left contrasts with Warrigal greens
Warrigal greens on the right in this Edible Micro-forest, Lonsdale St, Braddon.

It’s leaves are high in oxalic acid and should be blanched prior to eating. In Canberra, its best grown in a sheltered position with adequate water. Warrigal Greens were planted as a groundcover in the Edible Micro-forest display in Braddon.

It can be grown from seed or by cuttings.

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