Australian Plants online
Index   Back Issues   ANPSA Home

Bringing Verticordia out of the Too Hard Basket

Elizabeth George

Verticordias, some commonly known as feather flower, morrison, or wild cauliflower, were successfully cultivated by enthusiastic growers of Australian plants as long ago as the 1930-40s. In fact a few species were even grown and introduced to horticulture by nurseries in England between 1836 and 1910. A greater number of nurserymen and enthusiasts in eastern Australian states began cultivating a wider range in the 1950-60s. Up to 25 different Verticordias were grown at "Myall Park" at Glenmorgan in Queensland and some survived for 19 years.

In Western Australia, with the development of the botanic gardens at King's Park, at least 30 species were cultivated. Despite these achievements, verticordias were generally considered to be too difficult to grow and maintain in the garden. This was probably because their basic cultural needs were not understood.

From the early 1980s a concerted effort was made by a relatively small group of dedicated growers throughout Australia to bring all species into cultivation. They researched their specific requirements under a wide range of climatic and growing conditions, in order to provide information that would enable gardeners to enjoy the beauty and diversity of these fantastic plants. Research was also carried out at King's Park.

Why should we grow Verticordia?

  1. They are beautiful plants, sometimes most unusual and often produce spectacular displays when covered in flowers for weeks at a time.

  2. They range from small compact or spreading to medium and tall shrubs.

  3. They occur in every colour except blue and can be chosen for colour in different seasons.

  4. Many Verticordias are honey perfumed and attractive to nectar feeding birds, butterflies and a range of beneficial insects, including some newly discovered native bees that depend on particular species for their sustenance.

  5. Verticordias have low water requirements when established in gardens.

  6. Cut flowers are ideal for arangements retaining colour and sometimes perfumes for long periods.

  7. Verticordias prefer hot sunny spots in gardens and rockeries and many can be grown in pots.

  8. Most are indigenous to Western Australia and their natural habitats are disappearing or becoming fragmented.
Verticordia : The Turner of Hearts
This publication by Elizabeth George (illustrated by Margaret Pieroni) brings together for the first time available information on all the described taxa of Verticordia (101 species, 13 subspecies and 30 varieties) providing a comprehensive, user-friendly guide to their identification and cultivation.

Species are presented in a systematic sequence that allows for easy comparison and less confusion. The book is illustrated throughout with beautiful watercolours and line drawings and photographs of plants in their natural habitat are also included.

Book Cover
Further information from University of Western Australia Press

Cultural requirements

  1. An open position with full sun for most of the day is ideal. Short periods of filtered shade from trees and tall open shrubs are tolerated, provided there is good circulation above the plants. They will defoliate, flower poorly and possibly die when overgrown by other vegetation.

  2. Freely draining slightly alkaline to slightly acid soil that retains some moisture in summer (pH 5.5 to pH 6.5 is ideal). Waterlogged soil can cause root rotting.

  3. Light surface mulch will help retain moisture and protect feeder roots during the hot dry weather. Keep mulch away from stems to avoid collar-rot.

  4. A good watering-in at planting, then every few days to weekly for the first year or longer during drought conditions. Plants respond to drip or trickle irrigation. Too frequent watering and overhead sprinklers may cause fungal attack.

  5. Annual light pruning and regular tip pruning are recommended. When left unpruned some species can develop untidy growth.

  6. A small amount of native blend slow release fertiliser at planting time is beneficial. Over fertilising and over watering produce lush new growth that is highly susceptible to fungal attack.

Handy hints

  1. Prune only when plants are actively growing. Never cut bare stems below the foliage.

  2. Regular tip pruning of new leader growth encourages a bushy habit.

  3. Cutting a few flowering stems is an ideal method of pruning.

  4. Shearing off the old flowers is often all that is necessary to keep corymbose species compact.

  5. Verticordias love companion planting but resent overcrowding.

  6. Cutting a few flowering stems is an ideal method of pruning.

  7. Shearing off the old flowers is often all that is necessary to keep corymbose species compact.

  8. Verticordias love companion planting but resent overcrowding.
Some spectacular verticordias
Verticordia grandiflora
Verticordia grandis
Verticordia picta
Verticordia pritzelii
Photos: Keith Townsend, Brian Walters

From the list of verticordias that have proven rewarding in gardens, first time growers should look for some of the following.

Verticordia plumosa var. plumosa: The southern form is an attractive bushy shrub. It has perfumed pale to deep mauve-pink soft feathery flowers and greyish-green needle shaped crowded leaves. The Hills form is taller to 1 m, sometimes referred to as the 'cricketball' form because of its large rounded heads of blooms. Both flower prolifically from September to December.

Verticordia chrysanthella: A particular form of this species has been sold in nurseries for many years as V.chrysantha. Compact 30-60 cm tall, its bright green, terete foliage can be completely covered with brilliant yellow, almost woolly flowers from July/August until December. Placed in groups amongst other similar sized shrubs, it produces spectacular displays. V.chrysantha is more upright and more openly branched.

Verticordia mitchelliana: This is an attractive shrub to 1 m with a spread of 1-2 m. Its unusual rapier-like, bright red, pendulous flowers from October to January or February are eye-catching, especially when a plant is elevated as in a built-up bed or rockery.

Experienced growers have a larger palette to choose from:

Verticordia monadelpha var. callitricha forms a dense mound of intense magenta-pink when covered with soft, scented flowers through summer into autumn. 30-70 cm tall and 1 m wide, the urge to pat its woolly bloom is irresistible. This variety is more compact than var.monadelpha which, although also beautiful, usually has paler pink or white flowers, a taller more open habit to 1 m tall and blooms earlier in August or September. Leaves are fleshy, greyish-green and linear with three sides.

Verticordia brownii is an erect, corymbose shrub 30-60 cm tall and 15-30 cm wide with tiny greyish to yellowish-green fleshy leaves, crowded on many short branchlets. Dense woolly heads of tiny pale-pink to magenta-pink flowers appear from November until January or later.

Verticordia staminosa subsp. staminosa (Wongan featherflower), has an attractive low spreading habit 30 cm x 90 cm. Quaint pendulous yellow and red feather flowers hang below the bright green, pine-like foliage crowded on whitish branches. Ideal for rockeries and built-up garden beds, it is particularly ornamental placed around the base of tall open shrubs. Subsp. cylindracea is a little taller to 60 cm, also spreading with slightly smaller foliage, and flowers almost all year. Var. erecta is upright like a miniature pine tree, less than 1 m tall, with a profusion of the lantern-like flowers from April until October or November. These plants have self sewn when established in gardens.

Other species to ask for are the burgundy and gold flowered V.dichroma var. dichroma, red flowered V.dichroma var. syntoma, V.etheliana and V.grandis. V. densiflora and V.blepharophylla, (mauve-pink), V.cooloomia and V.endlicheriana var. angustifolia, (golden yellow), and V.nitens (orange).

From the May 2004 issue of the newsletter of the Wildflower Society of Western Australia.

Index   Back Issues   ANPSA Home

Australian Plants online - 2006
Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants