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Small Callistemons

Ross Doig

Australian Callistemons have for many years graced gardens, roadways, urban streets, botanical gardens and parks in Australia and overseas.

They have, in general, proved adaptable and hardy, most withstanding frost, damp soil conditions, some shade (although they flower best in full sun), and ranging in flower colour from white to cream, yellow, orange, pink, a range of reds to rose and crimson (the greatest number of species) to violet and lilac.

Callistemon or Melaleuca?
Over the years there have been suggestions that the differences between Callistemon and Melaleuca are not sufficient to warrant them being kept distinct. A paper by Lyn Craven of the Australian National Herbarium (Novon 16 468-475; December 2006 "New Combinations in Melaleuca for Australian Species of Callistemon (Myrtaceae)") argues that the differences between the two genera are insufficient to warrant them being retained separately and that they should be combined. As Melaleuca has precedence, adoption of Craven's work would transfer all species of Callistemon into Melaleuca.

Some herbaria have accepted this change but others are yet to do so. For this region, Callistemon has been retained in this article.

In size they will suit small and large gardens as the choice is from prostrate to small trees 5-6 metres in height. They vary from single trunked to multi-trunked and from open to dense foliage.

One treatment which is necessary annually is pruning, which is carried out below the spent flower heads. When the specimen becomes straggly or too large, cut back to just above ground level.

Propagation is from seed or from cuttings for a specimen to be true to the parent.

Over the years a veritable legion of cultivars have been recognised, in fact Wrigley and Fagg (see below) lists 193 (up to 1997) demonstrating the ease with which new varieties may occur apparently at random. Many of these have from time to time been available in wholesale and retail outlets along with some of the 37 pure species listed (Wrigley and Fagg, 1990).

Some of the smaller cultivars are listed below. In quite an arbitrary manner I have taken 1.5 metres as the upper height limit and prostrate as the lower. Being realistic an average would be about a metre. At the upper limit reduction to the desired height can usually be achieved by vigorous pruning with most species.

My search for small species and cultivars has been confined to native plant nurseries in New South Wales, fellow members of the Australian Plants Society, our publication Australian Plants, and the two books Bottlebrushes, Paperbarks and Tea Trees (1993) and Australian Native Plants Fourth edition (1997), both by John Wrigley and Murray Fagg. Incidentally, between them these two books probably should contain all the information one might need.

  • Callistemon 'Austraflora Firebrand' - semi prostrate, red
  • Callistemon 'Booti-Booti Queen' - to 1.5 m, red
  • Callistemon 'Captain Cook' - 1.5 m x 1.2 m, bright red
  • Callistemon citrinus 'White Anzac' - 1 m x 3 m, white
  • Callistemon comboynensis - 1 m to 1.5 m, red
  • Callistemon 'Little John' - 1 m x 1.2 m, red
  • Callistemon 'Phil May' - 0.6 m x 1.5 m, red
  • Callistemon phoeniceus 'Nana' - dwarf, red
  • Callistemon pinifolius - 1 m to 1.5 m, green
  • Callistemon pityoides - 1.5 m, narrow, yellow
  • Callistemon subulatus - 1 m, red
  • Callistemon viminalis 'Rose Opal' - 1.8 m, red
Small Callistemons
Callistemon 'Captain Cook'
Callistemon 'Captain Cook'
Callistemon 'White Anzac'
Callistemon 'White Anzac'
Callistemon pinifolius
Callistemon pinifolius
Callistemon pityoides
Callistemon pityoides
Photos: Brian Walters

This list is not exclusive nor can I verify that all are currently available as some cultivars have been recorded back in the 1950s and may have dropped out from native plant outlets. Too, hopefully new varieties and possibly species may have emerged since the Wrigley and Fagg books were last issued.

Small callistemons are highly desirable as houses are getting larger and building blocks are getting smaller, leaving less room for a garden.

From "Native Plants for New South Wales", the newsletter of the Australian Plants Society (NSW), October 2006.

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