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 baxteri is usually an erect shrub to about 1.5 – 3 metres in height with grey-green, oblong leaves to about 15 mm long. The large, crimson flower clusters are arranged in “bottlebrush” configuration and are very profuse and conspicuous, appearing in late autumn to early spring. 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 particularly suited to Mediterranean climates (dry summer – wet winter) but will also grow in more humid climates. It requires excellent drainage and a sunny or lightly shaded position. It withstands at least moderate frost.
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. Plants grown from seed can take many years to flower (up to 10) and it is best to propagate from cuttings taken from a mature plant that has already reached the flowering stage. In the latter case, plants should flower within 3 years.
Photo: Brian Walters