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Attractive Correas

Leigh Murray

We love correas. They're beautiful, hardy and bird-attracting, and need little maintenance or fussing. The ones we grow in our gardens at Queanbeyan and Tuross Head are Correa glabra (several forms), C. pulchella (ditto), C. decumbens, C. baeuerlenii, C. alba (two forms), C. reflexa (a few of the many forms), C. lawrenciana, C. 'Mallee Pink', C. 'Clearview Giant', C. 'Redex', C. 'Dusky Bells' and C. 'Pink Mist'.

Correa baeuerlenii  
Correa baeuerlenii
Photo: Brian Walters


We've got several plants of Correa glabra growing as a patch at Queanbeyan, in a partly shaded spot under the cover of large eucalypts. These very hardy shrubs grow to about a metre and a half high and wide, and withstand drought and frost. They flowered for months last summer, when hardly any other plants were flowering. Their yellow bell flowers became a mainstay of the nectar-eaters' diet, and the odd tip-prune gave the bushes all the encouragement they needed for renewed flushes of flowers. They were still flowering on and off into winter. Brilliant!

At Tuross, C. glabra grows and flowers well in dry shady conditions under Norfolk Island pines. We also have a number of smaller, younger plants in both gardens, of several different forms. One form from the Wangaratta area has small, wavy leaves and yellow flowers. Another form has red flowers. Most of the young plants, though still tiny, are already beginning to flower, attracting honeyeater attentions.

Another honeyeater mainstay in both gardens is C. baeuerlenii, a wonderfully reliable, long flowering, low-growing little shrub with cute creamy-yellow chef's cap flowers that are popular with a wide range of honeyeaters from spinebills to wattlebirds.

The white star-shaped flowers of C. alba are enjoyed by spinebills (although this shrub is never listed as a top nectar producer). It grows well in both gardens, as a rather straggly shrub that benefits greatly from pruning to keep it tidier. C. alba 'Western Pink Star', which has pale pink flowers, is doing nicely at Tuross. This species is said to be quite salt-tolerant, growing naturally as it does on coastal cliffs.

C. decumbens is delightfully tough, forming an almost flat ground cover with lovely dark red, green-tipped narrow bells. It grows well in sunny spots and in shade. It is flat enough to suit a bed between drivestrips, and one is doing well so far in this harsh spot (where not only does it have to cope with a low-slung car but also heat radiated from the concrete in summer).

  Correa pulchella var. minor

Correa pulchella var. minor
Photo: David Bennett

C. 'Redex', a hybrid between C. decumbens and C. reflexa, forms a small shrub that bears bell flowers that look similar to and slightly larger than those of C. decumbens. It is popular with honeyeaters during its long flowering period, mainly winter.

For heavy, showy flowering over a long period, it's hard to go past the neat little shrub C. pulchella. The area around our C. pulchella var. minor is often carpeted with its orange flowers - probably nipped off by crimson rosellas seeking nectar. We also grow two pink-flowering forms, both of which have masses of flowers for ages. C. pulchella has proved so reliable for us that I often use it now to fill gaps where other small shrubs have failed.

C.'Mallee Pink' is tough as well as beautiful (bright pink flowers), as is C. 'Dusky Bells', which makes an excellent low spreading shrub cum ground cover that flowers for many months each year. Several C. 'Dusky Bells' planted in full sun beside our concrete driveway at Queanbeyan cope well with the radiated heat. C. 'Pink Mist' only recently planted, is doing well in both gardens. It's said to have an upright habit so I'm using it in narrow beds. I'll just prune it to fit the spot if it grows too wide. (Most correas take pruning very well - they seem to thrive on it, especially frequent tip pruning.)

  Correa 'Clearview Giant'

Correa 'Clearview Giant'
Photo: David Bennett

There are some exceptionally beautiful flowers amongst the many forms and cultivars of C. reflexa but we've tried only a few because we lost some plants in our early years. Yet what is probably a form of C. reflexa grows naturally in our Queanbeyan garden - it's a rather plain Jane with pale yellow bells - and this is definitely a tough plant that grits its teeth and survives. Despite this, we formed the view that C. reflexa needed moister conditions than we could provide, so generally we steered clear of them. However, C. 'Clearview Giant', a form of C. reflexa, is doing nicely at Queanbeyan in a slightly shaded spot (where it pulls in the honeyeaters big time), and a red-flowered form of C. reflexa grows and flowers well in shade under a large Norfolk Island Pine at Tuross. So we may try other, more glamorous, forms of C. reflexa, fussing a bit more than usual while they're young.

C. lawrenciana (another good bird plant) is looking surprisingly promising in both gardens. I say surprisingly because it's said to like moist, sheltered conditions, and those we do not have.

None of our correas are in spots that are fully exposed to salt winds, and few are fully exposed to frost either. In slightly sheltered positions (often fairly shady) they do well for us and the birds.

The Correa Collection
Barb Pye and Bob O'Neill
ANPSA Correa Study Group

The Ornamental Plant Conservation Association of Australia's collection of correas is held by Bob O'Neill of Wandin, Victoria. Bob has representatives of all the Correa species in Katandra Gardens, with multiple copies of many of the forms grown to guard against the loss of any one form. Detailed records are maintained but this is made difficult by the sheer numbers, regular losses and the scattered nature of the collection.

Bob is always on the lookout for outstanding new forms. It is highly preferable to have the provenance or the origin of any one of these new forms.

The collection has been developed over the past 17 years with the generous help of many people, so it is no wonder that Bob and Dot are happy to share with or assist other Correa growers. The collection is available for scientific purposes - it is not just to lock up.

Currently a bed 50 m x 4 m is being prepared for planting mainly with smaller correas, simply because more space is required for them. Bob is currently seeking out correas that have wider horticultural potential. Smaller, compact, hardy plants with heavy flowering qualities and conspicuous flowers seem to be the plants most likely to succeed in today's home gardens.

Having an extensive collection of any one genus affects the character of the garden. In this instance the autumn/ winter flowering season of correas both brightens up the days as well as helps support a year-round bird population. The comparatively short life of numerous Correa forms also means a regular renewal element is built into the garden's structure.

Climate change is an emerging factor along with the age-old determinants of soil types, drainage, temperature, shade and aspect in determining how much of what is planted where. The broadly scattered nature of the collection has a unifying effect on the visual structure and feel of the garden.

The collection of more than 400 plants can be seen in the garden which is open to the public for a small entry fee. Bob won the ABC Gardener of the Year 2005 award. Katandra Gardens will be featured as a four-page entry in a major publication 'Great Gardens of the World' to be released in England in the near future. This is certainly a great achievement for Bob and Dot for their garden which features our favourite genus, Correa.


Katandra Gardens and B&B
Ornamental Plant Conservation Association of Australia

From ANPSA's Correa Study Group newsletter. May 2008

From the newsletter of the Australian Native Plants Society (Canberra Region), September 2008.

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Australian Plants online - 2009
Australian Native Plants Society (Australia)