Kunzea is closely related to the genus Callistemon (the bottlebrushes) and also bears some similarity to Melaleuca and Leptospermum. There are about 40 species occurring in all states and territories. One species also occurs in New Zealand. They are small to medium woody shrubs and the majority occur naturally in south Western Australia.
Some of the main differences between Kunzea and its close relatives are:
- The five sepals and petals are deciduous (persistent in Callistemon).
- The stamens are longer than the petals (shorter in Leptospermum).
- The stamens are free (united in five bundles in Melaleuca).
- Seed is released from the ripe fruit annually (usually retained on the plant in the other three genera).
Kunzea ambigua is a medium to large shrub reaching up to 3 metres in height but it is quite variable. Some forms have a lower, weeping habit. The leaves are narrow, linear in shape to about 10 mm long. The white, scented flowers are clustered into globular-shaped heads at the ends of the branches and are very profuse and conspicuous. Flowering occurs in spring and the flowers are followed by small 1-celled fruits which release numerous small seeds when ripe.
This species has been in cultivation for many years. It is very hardy and could be considered as a root stock for cultivation of some of the colourful western species which can be short lived on their own roots. It is suitable for a range of soils, provided they are not waterlogged and grows well in sunny or lightly shaded positions. It withstands at least moderate frost. A pink flowered form is also in cultivation.
Propagation is easy from both seed and cuttings. If seed is being collected, the plants need to be kept under observation or the seed will be lost.
Photo: Brian Walters