Gardening Articles by Russell Fransham
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Callistemon viminalis, the Australian weeping bottlebrush
When Winter is wet and miserable and the boggiest part of the garden is murdering yet another so-called hardy shrub, spare a thought for the lovely Callistemon viminalis, the Australian weeping bottlebrush.
Its a subtropical species from Queensland with dark red flowers, growing in the wild around creeks and billabongs.
Unlike other bottlebrushes, this one loves boggy ground.
The name Callistemon translates as "beautiful stamens" and viminalis refers to the fine weeping willow-like branches and leaves. It is slender and birch-like, growing quickly to four metres or more while a dwarf form called "Red Willow" is particularly attractive and compact.
Most commonly-grown bottlebrushes are actually hybrids between different species which have been bred for their spectacular but often brief flower display, but the wild form of the weeping bottlebrush flowers almost all year long with a major display through Spring and another in Autumn. My own specimens always have at least a few blood-red flowers even now in the dead of Winter.
Apart from their visual impact, a bonus is that they are bird-pollinated, so the tuis, wax-eyes and rosellas all come to feed in the nectar-rich flowers.
Most bottlebrushes become woody and ugly after a few years with rather sparse foliage, (a common complaint of the middle-aged), but wild Callistemon viminalis doesn't do that. It stays lush and full of foliage, though many of its hybrids are guilty of serious woodiness.
Any Callistemon that does get woody is easily and brutally fixed! With a chainsaw. Treat them like Hibiscus and cut the tree back to a branched stump about a metre or so high. Then jump back, because it'll start to re-grow very quickly and very lushly. Within a year it will have become a beautiful, densely foliaged specimen.
Interestingly, Callistemon viminalis grows just as happily in normal well-drained soil as it does in bog. It is adapted to a climate where the monsoon rains can flood their habitat for months on end then dry out to almost desert conditions.
(Text and photography copyright Russell Fransham 2004)