Barleria repens

coral creeper creeping through hedge


Barleria repens

Nees. 1847

pronounced: bar-LEER-ee-uh REE-penz

(Acanthaceae — the black-eyed Susan family family)


common names: coral creeper, coral bells, creeping barleria

The genus name Barleria is in honour of Jacques Barrelier (1606-1673), a French Dominican monk who was a physician, botanist, plant collector and author; repens means ‘spreading’, from the Latin verb repo, to crawl or creep.

This is an evergreen plant with small rounded glossy leaves and pink-red flowers. It comes from the forested area of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, and northwards to tropical Africa. It typically grows as a small rounded to spreading shrub up to about 60 cm tall and to almost a metre wide, but when given support it can climb up to about 2 m tall. On Magnetic Island it is mainly found creeping throughout hedge plants. There is a serious infestation in the hedge on Picnic Bay Mall, at the jetty end, where it has spread throughout the whole of that section. So far it has been kept in check by the paved areas surrounding the infested area. The plant is virtually impossible to eradicate without destroying the whole hedge. The only thing than can be said in its favour is that its flowers are very pretty. I have noticed another infestation in the hedge outside a house near the Nelly Bay Harbour.

Younger stems are green and sparsely hairy, while older stems can become woody. These stems tend to root where they touch the ground, making for a rapid spread of the plant. The leaves are alternate with entire margins, dark green in colour. The tubular axillary flowers, with 5 spreading lobes and light purple anthers, have 2 large greenish bracts at their bases. The flowers are about 5 cm long, and flare out to about 2.5 cm in diameter. The flower colour is light red to coral, salmon to lavender-pink, or pinkish purple.

The fruit is a small club-shaped capsule, explosively dehiscing to release 4 seeds. These are dispersed up to several metres by the dehiscing process, and also by water and animals. Stem segments and seeds are also spread in dumped garden waste. The plant is a potential threat to natural vegetation in all tropical and sub-tropical areas of Australia. It can form dense infestations in the understorey of urban bushland reserves, and it also has the potential to become a weed of riparian vegetation.

Several major infestations have been found around south-eastern Brisbane (Queensland). Control is difficult. Individual plants and stems can be manually removed by pulling or grubbing out. Where this cannot be done, removal of flowers and immature fruits can lessen the impact of seed dispersal. The effect of chemical control has received little documentation as yet.


Photographs taken at Picnic Bay 2008, 2013
Page last updated 18th October 2018