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 opposita is a small to medium shrub from 1.5 to 3 metres high. It has very small, elliptical leaves about 3 mm long and sparsely hairy. The flowers are pink and occur in clusters at the ends of the branches. 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 limited cultivation for many years and is grown mainly by enthusiasts. It is a colourful species which should be grown more widely. The plant requires good drainage and a sunny or lightly shaded position. It may be damaged by moderate to heavy frosts.
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: Murray Fagg – Australian National Botanic Gardens