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, Stenanthera belongs to the subfamily Epacridoideae, which was formerly classified as a separate family, the Epacridaceae. Stenanthera consists of three species of mainly small shrubs which were previously classified under Astroloma and Conostephium. All three species occur only in Australia in a variety of habitats, mainly in woodlands, open forests and heaths. The reclassification is accepted in the Australian Plant Census but is not accepted by some other authorities (it is possible that both Stenanthera and Astroloma, together with several other related genera, will be transferred to an expanded Styphelia genus in the future).
Stenanthera pinifolia is a small shrub up to about 1 metre tall but often smaller. The leaves are narrow, linear shaped and about 10 – 20 mm long, soft to the touch. The flowers are narrow at both ends, tubular in shape and about 20 mm long. They are red or yellow at the base with a greenish tip and occur singly from the leaf axils. Flowering occurs from spring through to summer. The fruit is a small, greenish berry which is edible.
Stenantheras, generally, are not widely cultivated and have proven to be difficult to maintain in the garden. S.pinifolia is no exception but can be grown successfully if given a well drained, moist position in semi shade. It is also a very attractive plant for a container.
Propagation is usually by cuttings of firm current season’s growth. S.pinifolia usually gives a better success rate than other related plants. Germination of seed is unreliable.
Photo: Brian Walters