The plant family Ericaceae (heaths and heathers) is widespread in many parts of the globe, particularly Europe and South Africa. It contains a number of widely cultivated plants such as Erica, Rhododendron and Pieris.
Like most of Australia’s members of the Ericaceae, Sprengelia belongs to the subfamily Epacridoideae, which was formerly classified as a separate family, the Epacridaceae. Sprengelia is a small genus of 4 species all endemic to eastern Australia. They are small, wiry shrubs usually found in moist, protected locations.
Sprengelia incarnata is the best known member of the genus as it occurs over a wide range and is sometimes cultivated by enthusiasts. It is an erect shrub up to a metre high and about 0.5 metres wide. The stem-clasping leaves wrap around the stems and overlap (sheathing). They are about 10-20 mm long tapering to a rigid point. The pale pink, star-shaped flowers occur in elongated clusters from the ends of the branches. The flowers usually appear in spring and summer.
Although only rarely cultivated, S.incarnata has proven to be successful in moist, peaty soils in partial shade. Drainage must be very good and the plant will not tolerate drying out. It is a very attractive plant for a container.
Propagation is usually by cuttings of firm current season’s growth and improved results have been reported when a root-promoting hormone is used. The species can be grown from seed but this is not readily available.
Photo: Brian Walters