So many of our local native plants have sharp thorns on the leaves and/or branches, and Bursaria incana, also known as the Prickly Pine, is no exception. The word ‘Pine’ used in one of its common names is a bit misleading, because B. incana is not a pine at all. It is a small tree which grows to about six metres, and is found in dry rainforest areas. Bursarias are members of the Pittosporaceae family which among others, includes Pittosporums, (e.g. Gumbi Gumbi – Pittosporum angustifolium), and Hymenosporum (Native Frangipani)
The tiny leaves have white hairs on the underside which gives the foliage a bi-colour appearance – green on the top and silver/grey underneath. The new shoots are also hairy, and as the branches grow, they produce thorns all along the stems. The thorns are reduced in the more mature branches. In spring, sprays of sweet smelling small white star-shaped flowers appear, which are not only appealing to us, but attract many pollinating insects such as beetles, butterflies and bees.
What follows is the formation of clusters of round woody pods that remain on the tree for months, eventually cracking open to reveal tiny brown seeds. I’ve successfully germinated the seeds, but it does take the best part of a year for those seedlings to be ready for planting out.
About five years ago, my very first planting on the property included about half a dozen Bursaria inacana plants. Their growth in the first year was slow, but then they shot up quite quickly and have reached maturity. They are located in an area which is susceptible to frost, and have not shown any signs of frost damage. I really like the shape of the trees; they are quite narrow, so it’s easy to fit several other plants around them, and the older branches have an attractive slight weeping habit. The leaves are very small and make a nice contrast growing beside other trees with larger foliage.
An unexpected surprise occurred last summer: I went wandering through that same planted area and noticed that every Bursaria tree had a finch nest in its centre! They would belong to either the Red-browed Finch (Neochmia temporalis), or the Double-barred Finch (Taeniopygia bichenovii). The nests are ball-shaped with a small entrance hole. Such small birds are taking advantage of the marvellous protection from predators that the thorns and the dense foliage provide.