Callistemon - Early History of Cultivation

Colin Cornford

The late Colin Cornford was the leader of the Society's Melaleuca and Allied Genera Study Group. The following article is reproduced from the March 1992 issue of the Group's Newsletter.



European botanists and collectors of the late 18th century showed considerable interest in the plants of the remote southern continent of Australia. Callistemon citrinus was among the plants collected by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander in 1770 during the discovery of the east coast of Australia. By 1788, three species from the Sydney region, C.citrinus, C.linearis and C.salignus, were available to English horticulturists. The convict artist, Thomas Walling, produced detailed illustrations of several Port Jackson (Sydney) species during the 1790s. An engraving of C.speciosus is published in a book published in France in 1813 which featured the plants growing in Empress Josephine's garden at Malmaison and was probably introduced by French botanists Leschenault and Labillardiere who collected seed, including C.speciosus, in Western Australia in the 1790s and early 1800s. C.speciosus was introduced to English horticulture in 1823. C.rigidus was introduced to English horticulture in 1815. Further introductions to English horticulture were:

  • C.brachyandus - Introduced 1843, flowered, 1848. It was grown in the gardens of the Royal Horticultural Society from seed provided by Governor Grey of South Australia.

  • C.citrinus (previously known as C.lanceolatus) - Introduced 1788.

  • C.phoeniceus - Introduced 1843 from seed supplied by James Drummond from the Swan River District of Western Australia.

  • C.pinifolius - Introduced from seed supplied by Allan Cunningham some time during 1820-1830.

       Callistemon lineraris
       Callistemon lineraris.
    Photo: Brian Walters
  • C.rigidus - Introduced to English horticulture in 1800. The original plant was collected by Robert Brown in 1800. Brown's description in 1819 was the first detailed taxonomic description of a Callistemon.

  • C.lanceolatus (now C.citrinus) - Appears to have been introduced to Kew Gardens by Joseph Banks in 1788. Curtis commented that C.citrinus was common in nurseries around England. The report states that the original plant was grown from a "root sent from Botany Bay". It was popular in France and had been flowered there by 1800.

  • C.linearifolius - Introduced in 1820 from seed supplied by Allan Cunningham.

  • C.linearis - Introduced by Banks in 1788 when the species was first described as Melaleuca linearis.

  • C.macropunctatus (now C.rugulosus) - Introduced in 1811 possibly from seed collected by one of the French expeditions to Australia.

  • C.pallidus - Introduced in 1813.

  • C.salignus - Introduced by Banks in 1788.

  • C.viridiflorus - Introduced to England in 1818-1820. C.viridiflorus flowered in June 1824 and is still being cultivated as a greenhouse plant but there are reports that the plant is presently being grown outdoors by some Australian plant enthusiasts in England.

In 1889 J.H. Maiden in his book The Useful Native Plants of Australia described two bottlebrush species in the chapter on local plants utilised for timber. C.lanceolatus (now C.citrinus) was described as having hard and heavy wood suitable for ship-building and wheel-wright's work and for implements such as mallets. C.salignus was described as having hard, close-grained wood suitable for use underground. He also states that "it has a pretty grain which looks well under polish". Two slabs of C.salignus were exhibited at the London International Exhibition of 1862. C.viminalis lasts quite well in the ground. It has a dense, closely-grained wood which polishes well with a rich, red colour.


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