Child-Friendly Indigenous Plants

Below is a list of 10 child-friendly indigenous plants we love. We’ve tried and tested these in indigenous garden projects in the play yards of childcare centres in Victoria, Australia. They’re hardy, non-toxic, beautiful, and easy to grow.

Download a list of the plants here for safe keeping.

We live and work mostly in the areas of the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung People. We acknowledge the Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nation who are the Traditional Custodians of this Land. We pay our respects to elders, past, present, and emerging, and extend that respect to other Indigenous Australians. 

What are indigenous plants?

Vegetation can be both native and indigenous in certain areas. Firstly, let’s get a little clearer about these two words. Native vegetation is particular to a given region or ecosystem. For example, Australian natives or native plants of Victoria. This includes lots of different plants for example trees, shrubs, herbs, or grasses. Native plants have grown and evolved with the ecosystem over time. Plants that humans have brought into areas where they weren’t there previously are called introduced or exotic species. Although Australian natives are mostly ‘good guys’ don’t be fooled. Some Aussie natives can become pests outside of the area where they grow naturally, so check your local Council plant guides before picking your plants. 

Indigenous plants are not only native to Australia but are also unique and historically suited to the conditions of your local area. They may not grow anywhere else in Australia. Sometimes they are referred to as ‘local natives’.

How to pick indigenous plants for your local area

Councils are a wealth of information. When it comes to indigenous plants, most Councils have already done the hard work for you in terms of picking plants that are suitable for areas where you live or work. For example, we are based in the Moreland City Council area in Victoria. They have prepared a bunch of great indigenous plant resources for our area here.

Why should you plant indigenous plants for your garden?

Since white settlement, many indigenous plants have been removed or out-competed by introduced plants. Indigenous gardens provide an opportunity to reflect on, respect and value the rich culture in Australia, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and histories. Indigenous plants fit in with the natural environment as they are suited to the local soils and climatic conditions. As they use less water this saves money. They also attract and protect native wildlife and help to conserve native plants of the area.

Here’s some other reasons to plant indigenous gardens:

  • They require less pesticides and fertilizers. 
  • They attract beneficial pollinators like birds, bees, and butterflies.
  • They are relatively easy to grow and once established, require little maintenance.
  • Indigenous gardens look beautiful and can handle some tough love from kids once established. 
  • They make great sensory gardens for children to see, smell, touch, hear and taste different plants. 
Before shot at Goodstart Mill Park University Drive, October 2019. We partnered with them to install a new
indigenous garden area in the kinder play yard.
The Indigenous garden area thriving at Goodstart Mill Park Univeristy Drive, February 2021.

Links to the Early Years Learning Framework

Planting child-friendly indigenous plants and linking this to learning about our local cultures, promotes a better understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing and being. It nurtures and supports respect for diversity, not just of plants but people. 

Growing an indigenous garden at your childcare and/or at home, not only leads to environmental benefits through improving biodiversity, but it also provides children with access to a wonderful natural environment (EYLF Outcome 2: Children are connected with and contribute to their world). It teaches children to care for and learn about plants in their local area and develop skills to respect their environment and community.

Looking after your indigenous garden

Choosing a variety of plants is key to creating layers in your garden to enhance the habitat and attract different types of local wildlife. Indigenous plants are easy to grow and maintain but they still require some love especially when they are young and finding their feet.

Here’s some tips to help your indigenous garden thrive:

  • Make sure your soil is healthy before planting. Remember, healthy soil = healthy plants.
  • Involve children in all aspects of gardening, from choosing the plants, planting, to helping to maintain the garden.
  • Mulch the garden area. This reduces water loss, adds more nutrients to the soil as it breaks down, and protects your plants during dry or hot periods. 
  • Set up a regular watering routine 1-3 times a week while new plants are getting established especially prior to hot or dry periods. Once established, you can cut back on watering the plants unless there is unusually hot weather or dry periods. 
  • Fence off the area after planting to give the plants time to get established without little trampling feet. Fencing should still allow for children to see the plants. If children want to touch the plants, they should be encouraged to do so with educator supervision. Educators can model what ‘gentle touching’ looks like. Fencing can be removed after plants are established. If particular plants thrive in your garden, plant more of these in the future.

Sustainable Gardening Australia has some great tips for planting and caring for your indigenous plants.

An example of temporary fencing to help new plants get established and give children the chance to learn plant-friendly behaviours.

Our 10 favourite child-friendly indigenous plants

*Even though these plants are native to Victoria, check with your local Council if they are indigenous to your area.

native mint indigenous child friendly plants

1. River Mint, Native Mint
Mentha australis

Can grow up to 30 cm high. Fresh leaves can be made into a tea or used in salads. Leaves exude a minty aroma when crushed. Once it’s established it will easily spread across a garden by itself using runners.

cut leaf daisy indigenous child friendly plants

2. Cut Leaf Daisy
Brachyscome multifida 

Small, spreading ground cover herb best planted in patches to create good coverage. Beautiful pink-mauve flowers in spring and summer. Favours light shade and dryish soils. Can cope with summer drought. Bee and butterfly attracting. Grows up to 40cm and spreads to 1+m.

purple coral-pea indigenous child friendly plants

3. Purple Coral-pea
Hardenbergia violacea

Beautiful, hardy, and fast-growing. Purple Coral-pea is a scrambler or climber which will twine over the ground, over fallen logs or up trees in open woodlands and forests. Because of its pretty purple flowers, it is often planted in gardens to grow up fences or trellises. It has showy, purple flowers July – November. It prefers well drained soil in full sun or semi shade. In the wild it provides good cover for ground dwelling creatures, and the seeds are eaten by insects, birds, and other animals.  

The leaves can be crushed and then boiled in water to make a Purple Coral-pea tea, that tastes a bit similar to Green tea.  Aboriginal people are known to have used this tea to help with chest infections and mouth ulcers and the flowers were eaten to cleanse or detox the body! The vine was used as a rope and woven or plaited together to make nets or traps.

Image courtesy of Peter Kinchington (photographer) Shire of Yarra Ranges and Flora of Melbourne

Kangaroo grass indigenous child friendly plants

4. Kangaroo Grass 
Themeda triandra

This is our cats favourite plant to nibble on at home. This tussock grass is a low maintenance ground cover that grows up to 30 cm. Grows best in full sun and moist soil but is tolerant of summer drought and light shade. Makes sure to trim and remove dead leaves. Caterpillars of the Common Brown Butterfly and native moths eat the leaves. The seed is being researched as alternative to wheat.

Common tussock-grass indigenous child friendly plants

5. Common Tussock-grass
Poa labillardierei var. labillardierei

Grows up to 70cm tall and wide. Green purplish flowers Oct-March. Prefers full sun/part shade. Grows well in most soils but prefers some moisture during summer. Poa grass was used by Aborigines as a fibre source to make string for nets, bags, baskets, and mats. The seed can also be ground down to make flour. It provides food for small birds and butterfly caterpillars. A favourite food of the common wombat.

Image courtesy of Russell Best (photographer), Yarra Ranges Plant Directory and Flora of Melbourne.

Matted flax-lily indigenous child friendly plants

6. Matted Flax-lily 
Dianella amoena

A long-lived plant that is easy to maintain. The Matted Flax-lily is found in grasslands and grassy woodlands in Victoria and Tasmania. Due to habitat clearance and other threats, there are not many wild populations of this plant left, so it has been listed as an Endangered species in Australia.  

The lily has a loose flower head with small purple flowers that are pollinated by the native, Blue-banded Bee. The native bees must compete for the nectar with the introduced Honeybee, which love the nectar but don’t pollinate the flower! Traditional uses of flax-lilies include the ripe berries providing a food source and plaiting the leaves into a cord for basket making.

Other types of Dianellas like Black Anther or Spreading Flax-lily (Dianaella revoluta var. revoluta) are also great performers in gardens with kids.

Image courtesy of Marilyn Bull (photographer) Yarra Ranges Plant Directory

Austral indigo indigenous child friendly plants

7. Austral Indigo
Indigofera australis

This plant provides food for many insects. The leaves are also a food source for caterpillars and birds. It is an open shrub growing to 1-2m tall and wide. Stunning mauve to pink flowers September-November. Grows best in moist, well-drained soil in shade to full sun. Will tolerate dry soils and summer drought.

In the early 1900s, Europeans also used the flowers to make the indigo dye and it was considered one of the strongest dyes in the world at that time. This plant is short-lived and can require replacing after several years.

Aboriginal uses: flowers and leaves make a dye. The roots are crushed and used to poison and catch fish.

Image courtesy of Marilyn Bull (photographer) Yarra Ranges Plant Directory

Golden wattle indigenous child friendly plants

8. Golden Wattle
Acacia pycnantha

In 1988 this plant was chosen to be the floral emblem of Australia. The Golden Wattle is fast growing so if you’re looking for instant shade, it’s a winner. It grows into a hardy, spreading shrub or small tree. Can grow up to 10m high, and 5m wide. Produces fragrant, fluffy, golden blossoms in late winter. The leaves have a gland that secrets a sweet liquid attracting insects like native ants. Prefers a sunny spot in well-drained soil. Can be short lived and may require replacement after about ten years. 

Aboriginal uses: the hard wood can be used for making tools, weapons, and musical instruments. The pollen and sap have uses in making medicine, glues, dyes, perfumes and for ceremonial decoration. Dried/hard seeds can be ground into flour.

Image courtesy of Marilyn Bull (photographer) Yarra Ranges Plant Directory

Black she-oak indigenous child friendly plants

9. Black She-oak
Allocasuarina littoralis

She-oaks are different to most plants in that there are male and female plants!  The males have dark brown flower spikes at the end of branches, and the females have red flowers along the side of branches and spikey cones. Flowering March-June. Black She-oaks are an important wildlife tree that provide food for native caterpillars and other insects. They attract insect and seed eating birds, particularly parrots like Eastern Rosellas, Rainbow Lorikeets, and Gang-gang Cockatoos.

A fast-growing tree. Up to 5-8m in full sun. Likes well-drained soils.

Aboriginal uses: the hard wood is used for boomerangs, clubs, and shields. In play areas with children aged under 3, consider planting this at the back of the garden to stop small hands from easily reaching fallen seed pods (potential choking hazard).

Image courtesy of Marilyn Bull (photographer) Yarra Ranges Plant Directory

Inland pigface indigenous child friendly plants

10. Inland Pigface 
Carpobrotus modestus

A spreading succulent. Tough, drought-tolerant and thrives in all soils. Height of 10cm, spreading out to 2m wide. Small pink-purple flowers August-January. All parts of the plant are edible. The purplish fruit is fig-like. Both the fruit and leaves were used as a food source by Indigenous Australians. 

Image courtesy of Agriculture Victoria, A J Brown

Looking for advice or support to grow an indigenous garden at your early childhood service? Get in touch. 

Where to buy indigenous plants in Victoria

Here’s some suppliers we source native and indigenous plants from. Check with suppliers on changes to ordering due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Victorian Indigenous Nurseries Cooperative (VINC)
Yarra Bend Road, Fairfield
VIC, 3078

CERES Nursery
Brunswick East
VIC 3057

Nangak Tamboree Wildlife Sanctuary – La Trobe University
Bundoora campus
VIC, 3086

Bulleen Art and Garden
Bulleen
VIC, 3105

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