Callistemon phoeniceus (syn. Melaleuca phoenicea)

Distribution Map
Family: Myrtaceae
Distribution: Widespread in the south west of Western Australia.
Common Name: Lesser Bottlebrush
Derivation of Name: Callistemon...from Greek kalos; beautiful and stemon; stamens
phoeniceus...a reference to the similarity of the flower colour to Phoenician dye
Conservation Status: Not considered to be at risk in the wild.

General Description:

There is ongoing controversy about whether Melaleuca or Callistemon should be used for the bottlebrush species - see box below). Some herbaria have now adopted the name Melaleuca phoenicea for this species, however, this reclassification has not been adopted in the Australian Plant Census (which is accepted by ANPSA as the authority on Australian Plant nomenclature).

Callistemon phoeniceus 'Pink Ice'
Callistemon phoeniceus 'Pink Ice'
Photo: Brian Walters

Callistemon phoeniceus is one of only two Callistemon species which occur in Western Australia. The common name is an unfair comparison with the other Western species, C.speciosus. C.phoeniceus is a medium shrub of around 3 m x 2 m in size. The brushes are usually brilliant red in colour although a pink-flowered cultivar, "Pink Ice", is becoming popular in cultivation.

Although native to a dry summer climate, the species has been grown successfully in the wetter summer conditions of Australia's east coast.

The plant responds to annual fertilising after flowering and may be pruned severely if necessary. Many Callistemons can tolerate less than perfect drainage but usually perform best in gardens with reasonable drainage and regular availability of water.

Propagation is easy from both seed and cuttings. The pink form must be propagated from cuttings to ensure that plants true to the parent are obtained.

Callistemon or Melaleuca?
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 genera Callistemon and Melaleuca 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 state herbaria have adopted this change but, at this stage, the re-classification has not been taken up in the Australian Plant Census, which ANPSA recognises as the authority on plant nomenclature. For this reason we have retained Callistemon as a separate genus but the corresponding names under Melaleuca will also be mentioned where appropriate.

Craven's re-classification has been adopted in a recent (2013) publication "Melaleucas: their botany, essential oils and uses" by Joseph J. Brophy, Lyndley A. Craven and John C. Doran.

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