Pioneers & Smart Plants
Pioneer plants are a group of plants that can establish and grow in poor quality soils with low nutrient levels. As they grow, these plants have the ability to fix nitrogen into the soil. Combined with leaf drop that forms a natural organic mulch layer that improves the soil quality for other species.
Pioneer species often have larger leaves or may grow with several plants that form a shady protective canopy that can create a ‘microclimate’ for slower growing species and less hardy seedlings to establish.
In the backyard garden this group of plants can be very useful for quickly establishing a cover and protection for slower growing and / or less sun tolerant species, while quietly working away to improve your soil fertility.
Pioneer and Nitrogen Fixing PlantsIn the wild, pioneer plants are a group of native plants that generally colonise areas of bushland that have been disturbed as a result of flood, cyclone, drought, fire or vegetation clearing. This group of plants are generally very fast growing but have a much shorter life span than the slower growing ‘climax’ species that can survive for 100 years or more.
Many pioneer species, such as those from the Acacia (wattles) and Casuarinaceae (Casuarina, She-oak) families have the added benefit of being able to fix nitrogen into the soil. These plants do this by using their leaves to gather atmospheric nitrogen from the air, they then transport it to the roots and soil where, with the assistance of soil microbes, convert atmospheric nitrogen into a biological form that can be used by both the plant itself and other plants and soil organisms.
It is this process combined with the ability to further improve soil quality with their leaf that allows this group of plants to grow and thrive in disturbed areas with low fertile soils.
Combined with their nutrient cycling, continual leaf drop and decaying wood, when the tree dies, this group of plants work continuously to accumulate a source of available nutrients in soil and an abundant supply of organic nutrient rich mulch. This in turn creates favorable conditions to allow other species to germinate and grow.
A patch of wattles is the start of a new forest in an area that has previously been disturbed either by man or nature.
Tips for Your GardenIn the backyard garden this group of plants can be very useful for quickly establishing a cover and protection for slower growing and / or less sun tolerant species, while quietly working away to improve your soil fertility.
They can be used to quickly fill a gap in your garden or provide habitat and foraging opportunities for wildlife in a short span of time. Wattles are an important food source for Sugar Gliders, Squirrel Gliders and many butterfly species.
Use this List of Pioneer Species as a guide to what you can plant into your garden for speedy planting results.
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Useful Tips and Facts
- Create urban wildlife corridors and stepping stones to larger local bushland or parkland areas.
- In nature there is no such thing as waste everything is linked and contributes to the cycle. As a plant reaches the end of its life cycle it is not discarded by nature, instead it provides habitat for animals and food for micro-organisms as it lies on the ground, the waste from the micro-organisms, bacteria and fungi feeding on it replace nutrients and organic material to the soil for new plants to grow.
- Plant local native species
- The best way to attract native wildlife to your backyard is to provide a variety of healthy natural foods in the form of seeds, leaves, flowers, nectar, pollen, fruits and nuts throughout the year.
- The use of pesticides and herbicides can damage your soils and kill non target species. The poisoning of insects with chemicals can also cause larger species relying on those insects as a food source to become sick or even die from eating poisoned insects.
- To create habitat for smaller native birds you can grow shrubs close together to create dense corners or pockets in your garden which will provide protection and refuge from larger aggressive birds such as noisy miners
- Wattles (Acacias). While most wattles only live between 6 - 10 years, they are an important pioneer species which colonise disturbed areas, where other plants find it hard to grow. They improve soil conditions enough to allow other species to germinate and thrive by fixing nitrogen into the soil through their roots and adding high levels of organic leaf litter.