Union Plain Revegetation Projects

Union Plain comprises 365 hectares, 20 kilometres north-east of Deniliquin. While in more recent times the property has been used for beef and cereal production, historically (in a post-European context) it was, like most properties north of Deniliquin, a wool growing enterprise.

Our other revegetation plots

Front plots
My sister and brother-in-law, Susan and Neil Bull, moved into the homestead on Union Plain in 1987. We started revegetating at the front of the house, outside of the immediate garden area, in 1988, planting approximately one hectare with grey, black and yellow box, and boree and buloake with an old man saltbush and assorted acacia understorey. In about 1995 we started planting up an adjoining area, effectively doubling the plot. These areas were totally devoid of trees and shrubs when we started.

The topography was red plain with grassland consisting of native, introduced grasses and weeds such as stinkwort. Originally, the area was probably saltbush and boree country. We decided when we started on the second area that we would try to re-establish what we thought it would have looked like pre-European settlement. It seemed from old reports that away from the floodplains the vegetation on the plains consisted of boree, various saltbushes, and a groundcover of pigfaces (Disphyma and Sarcozona).

We collected seed of old man and bladder saltbushes on Willura Station in 1997, borrowed a direct seeding machine and direct seeded most of the bladder saltbush. This was successful except in good seasons when grass would overpower the bladder saltbush and stop it regenerating naturally. In 1999 Amber’s horse, Tuppence, was called into service to graze the two plantations. Horses are picky; they mainly eat grass and will not touch saltbush, and except that they like to rub on them, are not fussed with shrubs and trees. Tuppence gradually reduced the grass and old man and bladder saltbushes started regenerating naturally, becoming thicker and thicker. Boree was planted by hand. By this time the paddock, de-stocked for three years, had vanilla and nodding chocolate lilies erupting.

Presently the area is pretty much devoid of grass and there is saltbush understorey carpeting most of the area.

Round-leaf pigface Dispyma clarellatum and Sarcozona praecox once covered vast areas of the plains country but has largely disappeared from south of the Murrumbidgee River in the last 30 years. We dug up a couple of each species from One Tree Plain north of Hay and replanted them among the saltbush and boree at Union Plain. As these plants started to mat down, we separated them and transplanted those pieces. Tuppence played her part (eating grass) and both pigface species started regenerating naturally. When we were still getting wet winters pigface seedlings were plentiful as this is when they like to germinate.

After 2000, wet winters became a thing of the past and the drought kicked in so while the pigface is well established, it has not spread much in the last eight years and the area remains too dry to divide pigface and transplant by hand.

When the boree, yarran, buloake and emubush in the first planting were about ten years old (about three to five metres high), we started introducing mistletoe onto the trees. This is as simple as sticking a mistletoe berry onto a branch of a suitable host tree. Quite a few berries, over several years, were attached before four species ‘took’ to the host trees. Mistletoebirds soon found the area as well as spiny-cheeked and singing honeyeaters — none of which were on the farm previously — and they now spread the mistletoe naturally. Mistletoebirds have bred successfully on the property for the last three seasons. Both spiny-checked and singing honeyeaters have bred successfully for about five seasons and are spreading into Susan and Neil’s other revegetation areas — despite the last eight years being some of the driest on record. Ruby and thorny saltbushes, having been established in the understorey, are a firm favourite of these two honeyeaters and they are dispersing their berries all over the farm and elsewhere.

No striped honeyeaters are resident although they have passed through a couple of times. We are still waiting for painted honeyeater to turn up; there is plenty of mistletoe for them and they used to occur not far away.

Behind the homestead
We started planting the area behind the homestead in 1998. It was an area of about two hectares with about five mature black box trees extant. The soil here was a bit loamier than the front plots and we were able to plant some species that did not do so well up in the front plots. Eremophila longifolia did much better here as did Eremophila maculata, which grows naturally under black box trees near Moulamein. The maculatas are now attracting lots of honeyeaters. Myoporum deserti, montanum and platycarpum are all thriving. Myoporum deserti and montanum were planted under black box because that is where they grow at Boorooban where the seed was collected.

Away from the box trees we planted mainly boree and a few native willows as well as Melaleuca lanceolata, buloake, native pine and quandongs. Understorey plants that have done much better here in the lighter soil include Acacia hakeoides  and A. acinacea. and rare species such as Olearia pimeleoides and  Templetonia egena, Cassia eremophila var. coriacea and Cassia circinnata.

For the most part, the planting in this area has coincided with the dry years so the plantings have not grown as quickly as they might have done. The borees are only just big enough to establish mistletoe. The only mistletoe present now is the wire-leaf mistletoe that the mistletoebirds have spread naturally to the understorey acacias.

In the last few years the old black box trees and the now thick understorey have enticed small birds like weebills, chestnut-rumped thornbill and red-capped robin, which were not previously recorded here. Yellow and yellow-rumped thornbills, superb fairywren and striated pardalote also like this area, as do singing, spiny-cheeked and white-plumed honeyeaters.

East Barney
Susan and Neil fenced about seven hectares of remnant vegetation in 1997 in the back paddock known as East Barney. The area consists of a low sandy loam ridge running down to clay soil around the edges. The remnant vegetation consists of two small clumps of rosewood with native jasmine growing through it (the jasmine is quite a rare plant in the district); a couple of pines and buloakes; a few hooked needlewoods and a clump of black box trees, which covered about a quarter of the area. About half to two-thirds of the area was open so there was plenty of scope to plant trees and shrubs.

Most of the planting was done between 1997 and 2000 when the seasons were still reasonable and we had a good success rate. In 1997 we tried some direct seeding ourselves with a borrowed seeder. We seeded mainly acacias, cassias and some bladder saltbush and while we had some success, we didn’t spray the lines and weeds smothered some of the seedlings.

The soil here was much lighter than the homestead plots and we planted emubush, native pine, buloake, native willow, wilga, yellow box and some boree. Understorey plants included Acacia hakeoides, acinacea, brachybotra and in among the box trees, Myocarpum deserti, montanum and platycarpum as well as thorny and ruby saltbushes; and some bladder and old man saltbushes. We also planted native clematis, olearia and more native jasmine in the rosewood clump. This area looks fantastic despite the dry years.

Before the area was fenced off there was quite a large group of southern whiteface present and smaller numbers of chestnut-rumped and yellow-rumped thornbills. These species have largely disappeared from East Barney, particularly the whitefaces, because they like a bare understorey to feed in. This area has not been grazed since 1997 and it now has a grassy understorey. Hopefully as the trees and shrubs get larger, the grass will decrease and the whitefaces will return.

Bluebonnets like to feed in this area as it is not far from the Box Creek where they reside. (They never come near the black box at the homestead). We have seen them feeding on old man and some of the other saltbushes. Grey-crowned babblers and white-winged choughs also like this area. The choughs rarely visit the homestead plantings. In the last couple of years white-winged fairywrens have taken up residence in the old man saltbush.

Susan and Neil expanded the area with seed plantations of Acacia victoriae, oswaldii, acinacea and salicina, Myoporum platycarpum and black box in 2003, adding another 1.5 hectares.

The area is at the rear of the farm and not simple to access so not visited regularly. There are probably more birds than we know about using East Barney.

Box Creek
Box Creek was part of an ephemeral wetland that was altered to become an irrigation drain.

A trial watering of a section of Box Creek on Union Plain in 2002 resulted in an area of 16 hectares of black box and lignum being flooded for 14 weeks.  The health of this degraded area improved dramatically.

In 2002 Susan and Neil planted a 1.2 hectare plantation, joining the Box Creek to vegetated laneways around the farm. It consists of a mix of saltbush species with a scattering of black box, boree and Acacia stenaphylla.  This work coincided with the beginning of a sustained dry period and these plants needed supplementary water through their first spring and summer.  Scarcely a plant was lost but it was a huge effort.  Plans to extend these lines so all major revegetation sites are joined to each other have been temporarily shelved until better conditions prevail.



The total area of indigenous vegetation on Union Plain is currently 95 hectares. The continuing drought and the necessity to take off-farm employment are generating further changes.  It is likely further de-stocking will occur, substantial areas of the farm taken out of 'production', and rehabilitated.  Exciting times are ahead!

Union Plain would be nirvana if we were not in drought; presently it is an invaluable refuge for many of this district’s dry land species. The property is a superb example of what can be achieved, in the most trying of conditions, in a relatively short time, if you revegetate with local plant species.

 Philip Maher, Susan Bull and Neil Bull, March 2009.

Union Plain photographs are at the end of the revegetation page 
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white cyress pine Callitris columellaris
hoop mitchell grass Astrebla elymoides*
crane grass Eragrostis australasica
umbrella grass Leptochloa digitaria
plains grass Stipa aristiglumis
feather speargrass Stipa elegantissima
kangaroo grass Themeda australis
belah Casuarina cristata spp. cristata
buloake Casurina luehmannii
slender-leaf mistletoe Amyema linophyllum spp. orientale
box mistletoe Amyema miquelii
fleshy-leaf mistletoe Amyema miraculosum spp. booramii
wire-leaf mistletoe Amyema preissii
grey mistletoe Amyema quandang var. quandang
harlequin mistletoe Lysiana exocarpus spp. exocarpus
leafless cherry Exocarpus aphyllus
quandong Santalum acuminatum
sandalwood Santalum lanceolatum
eastern flat-top saltbush Atriplex lindleyi
old man saltbush
Atriplex nummularia
lagoon saltbush Atriplex subirecta
bladder saltbush Atriplex vesicaria
ruby saltbush Enchylaena tomentose
cottonbush Maireana aphylla
satiny bluebush Maireana georgei
climbing saltbush  Rhagodia nutans
mealy saltbush Rhagodia parabolica
thorny saltbush Rhagodia spinescens
hairy-tails Ptilotus erubescens
round-leaf pigface Disphyma clavellatum
sarcozona Sarcozona praecox
small-leaf clematis Clematis microphylla
native blackthorn Bursaria spinosa
butterbush Pittosporum phylliraeoides
gold-dust wattle Acacia acinacea
grey wattle Acacia brachybotrya
silver wattle Acacia dealbata
yarran Acacia homalophylla
yarran Acacia melvillei
hickory wattle Acacia implexa
streaked wattle Acacia lineata
mallee wattle Acacia montana#
wiry wattle Acacia coriacea
stiff golden wattle Acacia notabilis
miljee Acacia oswaldii
boree Acacia pendula
golden wattle Acacia pycnantha
needle wattle Acacia rigens
cooba (native willow) Acacia salicinia
river cooba Acacia stenophylla
prickly wattle Acacia victoriae
desert cassia Cassia eremophila var. coriacea
punty bush Cassia eremophila var. eremophila
punty bush Cassia eremophila var. zygophylla
spring-pod cassia Cassia circinnata
punty bush Cassia eremophila var platypoda
desert broombush Templetonia egena
wilga Geijera parviflora
narrow-leafed hopbush Dodonaea attenuata
Wedge-leaf hopbush Dodonaea cuneata
rosewood Helerodendrum oleifolium
plains lantern-bush Abutilon halophilum
clustered sea-heath Frankenia connata
shrubby rice-flower Pimelia microcephala
moonah Melaleuca lanceolata
prickly bottlebush Callistemon brachyandrus
yellow gum Eucalyptus leucoxylon var. rosea
yellow box Eucalyptus melliodora
black box Eucalytpus largiflorens
brimble box Eucalytpus populnea
grey box Eucalyptus microcarpa
quorn mallee Eucalyptus porosa
native jasmine Jasminum lineare
gargaloo Parsonsia eucalyptophylla
spotted fushia Eremophila maculata
emubush Eremophila longifolia
eurah Eremophila bignoniflora
amulla Eremophila debile
turkeybush Myoporum deserti
western boobialla Myoporum montanum
sugarwood Myoporum platycarpum
showy daisy-bush Olearia pimeleoides
bush minuria Minuria cunninghamii
drumsticks Craspedia globosa
lemon beauty-heads Calocephalus citreus