Callistemon spp.

C. citrinus 'Endeavour'


Callistemon spp.

R.Br. 1814

pronounced: kal-liss-TEE-mon species

(Myrtaceae — the gum family)


common name: bottlebrush

native 4The name Callistemon is derived from two Greek words, καλλος (kallos), beauty, and στημον (stémon), a thread (stamen). In Callistemon citrinus var. Endeavour, citrinus means ‘lemon’, referring to the scent of its leaves. In Callistemon ebor, ebor is the abbreviation for the Latin Eboracum, the Roman name for the city of York in England. What that has to do with this species is a mystery to me, unless it was named after or developed by a man named York. There is also a village in the northern tablelands of NSW named ‘Ebor’, and the species may possibly have been named after that place. Viminalis is Latin for 'of/belonging to osiers '.

The bottlebrush genus (Callistemon) contains 34 species of shrubs, and hundreds of cultivars have been selected from natural variants and hybrids between species. Most bottlebrushes are endemic to Australia, but four species are also found in New Caledonia. In Australia, they are found mostly along the entire eastern coast, although there are some in south-east Western Australia. They are closely related to the paperbark Melaleucas, which also have ‘bottlebrush’ shaped flower spikes.

It looks as if the Callistemon is about to be placed into the Melaleuca genus. There has been a longstanding separation of the species based on many features, but especially that of the Melaleucas having their stamens fused into groups of five rather than being free. It now appears that the differences are not as great as was thought, and there is considerable overlap in this and other features. As a result, Callistemon citrinus will become Melaleuca citrinus and so forth – the only problems will arise where a Melaleuca already exists with the same name, e.g. there is already both a Melaleuca pungens and a Callistemon pungens, and these are different plants.

The obvious parts of the flower masses are the stamens, with the pollen at the tip of the filament, and the petals are inconspicuous. The flower heads are mostly red, but some are other colours, white, yellow, orange, and even green.

After flowering, they produce triple-celled seed capsules that stay on the plant with the seeds enclosed until the capsules are stimulated to open when the plant dies, or when fire causes the seeds to be released. There are a few species that release their seeds annually.

The leaves are linear to lanceolate, and in some species are covered with fine hairs.

Callistemon have been grown in Europe since 1789, when Sir Joseph Banks introduced a specimen of Callistemon citrinus to Kew Gardens in London.

A mass planting of Callistemon viminalis dwarf cv. 'Little John' has been made in a garden bed near the roundabout at the northern end of the Picnic Bay Mall. They flowered within a few weeks of being planted, and should make a brave show when they grow a little taller. They usually grow up to about 2 m in height.


Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2005-2013
Page last updated 26th October 2018