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Beaufortias in Toowoomba

Norm McCarthy

Beaufortia is closely related to Melaleuca in the dominant family of Myrtaceae. This genus of some 20 species are endemic to the South West and Eremaean provinces of Western Australia.

They may be semi-prostrate with soft dense foliage, to small shrubs that could ultimately be 4 metres tall. These taller forms could be wiry and rigid and spreading by nature. It is noted here that these plants are rated as of sand heath origin, being low and spreading in inland plain situations. Species found near the coast are even lower, being affected by prevailing, easterly winds. The foliage is a pleasing, mid-green and crowded, decussate, mostly opposite and quite resilient in nature with no known pests of which to speak.

Flowering is terminal and ranges from September to possibly April depending on the species. Inflorescences can be quite variable from dense globular heads to brush-like spikes of tufted upright appendages resembling a fan or a spent open paintbrush in appearance. Colours present from mauve-pink to an orange, red, or even green. Flowers are normally persistent for several weeks.

Toowoomba on the Great Dividing Range in Southeast Queensland with its unique climate, grows a wide range of native plants well. Perched at an altitude of 700 metres above sea level and over 100 km inland we do not suffer the high humidity experienced on or near the coast. A big plus! Lower humidity obviates or greatly reduces fungal problems to a minimum. Our elevation is generally responsible for breezes creating cool air movement to reduce wet foliage and thus prevent infection from deleterious fungal spores. Seemingly blessed with such an ideal climate, we are able to grow well a wide spectrum of native plants, often beyond our expectations. Of course, there are exceptions and some limitations exist. So be it! However, grafting of many difficult species onto suitable rootstocks is naturally a great move forward. Good drainage is a must and raised beds with an acid pH works to an advantage with a wide range of plants.

Beaufortia schaueri    Beaufortia squarrosa
Beaufortia schaueri  Beaufortia squarrosa

The year of 2003 was extremely dry nation-wide and we endured topsy-turvy weather indeed, including heavy late winter frosts. One horrendous black frost was particularly severe on many local gardens. Miraculously our natives mostly escaped unscathed, only 5 broad-leaved rainforest species being affected - as one might expect. Another plus for native plants enduring the vagaries of climatic inversion.

My two beaufortias, B.schaueri and B.squarrosa were completely unaffected, so they are tough in our environment. They were purchased almost 2 years ago in 150 mm pots and both have flowered twice in the ground. Now new growth is evident after 50 mm of recent good soaking rain on our exceedingly dry landscape. After flowering, the fruiting capsules are formed: terminal seed-heads on B.schaueri, while on B.squarrosa seed vessels are in the nature of a stem clasping appendage which is fused around older growth.

Seed set takes 1 year to develop, ripen and reach maturity. Now these capsules can be removed from the plant and placed in a brown paper bag to shed the seed. Dispersal is soon achieved and the resulting seed is fine and brown and easily propagated. Seeds may be retained on the plant and remain viable for years. For a quicker alternative and earlier flowering cuttings strike readily. Grafting mature plants onto compatible rootstocks is now widely practised on many plants - why not Beaufortia? Cutting to cutting grafts are successful within bounds. Perhaps this is or could prove to be yet another approach for reproduction. Periodic tip pruning encourages new growth and improves plant density. Slow release Osmocote and/or seaweed derivatives at monthly intervals aid healthy plant growth.

Specific Plant Details

Beaufortia schaueri - Pink Bottlebrush

This smaller near prostrate plant is at present a picture of terminal mauve-pink globular heads of bloom, each 3 cm across which are produced en masse. The plant is circular and measures 30 cm high x 55 cm across. It flowers non-stop for at least 2 to 3 months (Sept-Nov) and is a real splendour. The fine decussate, mid-green foliage is attractive and fern-like in appearance and is a fitting background to compliment the multiple ball-like flowers. Size at maturity may ultimately be 1 m high x 1.5 m wide with terminal seed heads.

Beaufortia squarrosa - Sand Bottlebrush

By way of contrast, leaves of this plant although decussate are larger, coarser, more open in habit on its leaves. The leaves are recurved and somewhat stiff and may measure 0.5 cm x 0.3 cm. In this species the branches are rigid and thick with a greyish bark for a plant of only small dimensions of 40 cm tall x 20 cm wide. Its mode of flowering is intriguing - bright upright terminal fan-shaped orange heads. They resemble the splayed open bristles of a small, partly-spent paintbrush, 3 cm x 3 cm in tuft-like formation. Flower colours could also be bright red or yellow flowering forms from September to April. Classed as 'Sand Bottlebrush', B.squarrosa may vary in shape in relation to its habit. Coastal forms are low and spreading whilst inland are taller and narrower to perhaps 4 m high.

If in our garden in Southeast Queensland we experience a most desirable wet season, fortunes may change dramatically, but that's another story!

Who knows?

From 'Native Plants for New South Wales', the newsletter of the Australian Plants Society (NSW), April 2004.

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