Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Oakey Bottlebrush

Melaleuca quercina
(Callistemon quercinus)
The best known native bottlebrush in our part of the world is the very common small tree, the “weeping red bottlebrush”, Melalueca viminalis (Callistemon viminalis), with its bright red flowers.
We have another local "Callistemon", little known, and only recently named.
I photographed this specimen in a garden near Felton, where it was humming with life. At least six kinds of insect were feeding on the nectar in the flowers, three of them large and beautiful butterflies.
The seed from which this one was grown came from a small population of the plants, spread along just a few miles of Emu Creek, between Cambooya and Felton. In most of the creek, including near the Emu Creek State School the callistemons are the more usual M. viminalis with its familiar red flowers.
(This particular “Emu Creek” is not to be confused with the many others of the same name, in our country where this large bird was once common, including the other “Emu Creek” in our district, north of Crows Nest.)

As you can see, the flowers vary in colour, opening salmon pink, and fading to cream. The effect of mixed colours on the bush is very pretty.

Young plants have the bushy habit shown above, both in the wild and in gardens. Older plants develop into substantial small trees.

I photographed these last weekend, from the bridge over Emu Creek, on the Cambooya-Felton Road.
They do look a bit flood-bothered, don’t they?

Another view of the largest tree, taken from another angle, gives a better idea of its size - and of the size of the flood which burst the banks of the creek and spread over the surrounding plain.

Like M. viminalis, these would be a good choice to plant in areas where flooding may sweep away less sturdy vegetation. They hold on tightly to the soil with their flood- and drought-adapted roots, and survive inundation.
As you see, they thrive on the heavy black soil. (However they have also proven to be as tough and adaptable as the closely related local red bottlebrush, growing well on dry slopes and hills.)
Other small populations of the same species occur in various places, mostly on tributaries of the Condamine River.
There are several very similar species which, until the recent official naming of the plant, were lumped together under various names including: Callistemon sp. (Chinchilla D.M.Gordon 401); sp. ‘Injune’ (or "Injune Pink"); and sp. ‘Koreelah Creek’.
Melaleuca quercina grows in Oakey Creek, on the way to the once well known Brookvale Park Botanic Garden. Its owner Lance Cockburn sold them as Callistemon 'Weir River'. (Weir River is out near Moonie.)
This is a special plant for those of us who live on the Darling Downs, and value our very own natives.
I look forward to seeing it become easier to buy!


CathieP said...

I was fortunate to receive at least a dozen of this 'emu creek' bottlebrush, and planted it in my garden at Cambooya. That was about 4 years ago, they are lovely, no sooty mould unlike most of the other varieties of callistemon, flood and drought hardy it seems, after our eventful weather. I am seeking to plant a whole lot more! You are welcome to visit Patricia.

Patricia Gardner said...

Hi Cathie
I would love to do that sometime, and I'm glad to see you using the plant in the garden. We have a lot of local native plants, but most of them are also native in a broader area. This one is special as it's endemic to just that specific piece of Australia between Oakey and Clifton. It's a thing that should value as an icon of of a special place.