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Westringia fruticosa (Willd.) Druce 1917
pronounced: west-RING-ee-uh froo-tih-KOH-suh
(Lamiaceae – the lavender family)
common names: Native Rosemary, Coastal Rosemary
Westringia is named for J. P. Westring (1753?–1833), physician to the King of Sweden and an authority on lichens. All the members of this genus are native to Australia and New Zealand. Fruticosa is from the Latin fruticosus, shrubby or bushy.
The native rosemary is a shrub of simple and neat appearance that grows wild near the NSW coast. Stretches of it are seen hugging the cliffs and down to beach level, either prostrate or a metre or so high, depending on the location. I have observed great numbers of this shrub on the marvellous cliff-top walk between Bondi Beach and Coogee. White flowers dot the shapely plants. Growth is naturally stiff and bushy, but this plant responds to garden treatment by growing much taller. It reaches at least 2 m high and 5 m across, often forming a regular dome with its lower branches covering the ground. It is useful as a large type of ground-cover plant. Sometimes it throws out one or two main branches to develop an irregular habit, but generally the plant is shapely. After reaching maturity, it does not deteriorate quickly with age as some species do, but keeps its good condition for years. During the coldest weather (down to about –7ºC) it keeps a fresh appearance, and it is also drought hardy, as well as being salt-tolerant. In very dry conditions it does tend to produce yellowing leaves and bare branches.
The foliage is a dark, even green, and a covering of short hairs on the young tip growth and the undersides of the leaves gives the plant an attractive silvery tint. The leaves are up to about 2 cm long, narrow and pointed, and set closely in whorls around the stem. The name ‘rosemary’ refers to the appearance of the plant only: it does not have the familiar scent of the true rosemary.
The flowers are about 2 cm across, set round the stems in the leaf axils. In shape they resemble other flowers of the mint family. The upper petal is divided into 2 lobes. The flowers are from white to palest mauve in colour, with reddish and yellow-brown spots near the throat. Though the shrub is never smothered in flowers, those it has are conspicuous against the dark foliage, and are seen in most months of the year except in extreme heat or cold. They are usually most abundant in November. There are some cultivars with attractive variegated foliage.
As a cut flower, the stiff straight sprays are surprisingly handsome, especially where a large arrangement is wanted, as quite long sprays last well in water and continue to open their buds for weeks. When mass-planted, this shrub also makes a good clipped hedge, and it can even be grown as an indoor plant.
Photographs taken at Picnic Bay 2005 & at Coogee NSW 2007
Page last updated 29th March 2017