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As part of the xeriscape or drought tolerant garden, the stunning Geraldton Wax Plant can’t be beat!

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Picture courtesy Ross Funnell - see her flickr pagePicture courtesy Ross Funnell - see her flickr pageWhen in full bloom the geraldton wax plant looks like a billowing cloud of cotton candy as the branches sway in the breeze. The needle-thin leaves can be bright to dark-green, depending on the season, and contrast beautifully in texture and colour with the shiny berry-like buds arranged in open sprays along the ends of the stems, and the lush clusters of waxy, star-shaped flowers. If you crush the leaves, they emit a pleasant lemony scent, and the flowers have a sweet, honey fragrance, oozing nectar and attracting butterflies, bees, and other pollinating insects; particularly on warm, late winter or spring days.

The naturally occurring pink or white flowered geraldton wax plant grows quickly into a lovely rounded shape, and is generally clipped into a thick shrub, but if left largely unpruned, the older varieties can reach heights of +- 2.5m with spread of 2m. This hardy shrub has come a long way over the past decade, thanks to improved breeding and hybridisation the geraldton wax plant is extremely popular, and available in colours that range from white to various shades of pink, mauve and wine; sometimes with all the colours on one bush. And, while the traditional form blooms in winter and spring, there are now several hybrids from which to select which will extend the blooming time into early summer. Recently released cultivars are even frost hardy down to -2°C, and delightful new dwarf forms grow beautifully in containers, making them suitable for even the smallest gardens.

Picture courtesy Green Acres Nursery CaliforniaPicture courtesy Green Acres Nursery CaliforniaPicture courtesy Green Acres Nursery CaliforniaThis gorgeous evergreen belongs to the Myrtle family which contains about 150 genera and 3,300 species of trees and shrubs, notably the Australian tea tree (Leptoscpermum laevigatum), New Zealand tea tree (Leptospermum scoparium), bottlebrush (Callistemon spp.),  and Melaleuca species. Its members are widely distributed in the tropics and characteristically feature leathery leaves with oil glands. Several, like allspice and clove, are useful as spices, and a number of species are economically important for their timber.

Chamelaucium is a genus of about 30 species, all occurring only in south-western Australia, and the gerladton wax plant is endemic to the Shark Bay region of extreme Western Australia, growing wild nowhere else in the world.  It can be found in coastal areas, the edges of swamps, hillsides and plains, thriving in white, grey or yellow sand, over limestone, laterite. Laterite is a clayey soil horizon rich in iron and aluminium oxides, formed by weathering of igneous rocks in moist warm climates. In the wild it varies greatly in height from 50cm to 4m tall, and the immature branches are a smooth greyish-brown, becoming rougher with age. The young twigs can be slightly reddish and are a particularly pretty contrast to the flowers.

Modern hybrids include:

Chantilly Lace (Chamelaucium uncinatum hybrid) is a very prolific flowering variety with masses of buds, opening into dense clusters of pure white blooms with beautiful frilly edges and lime green centres.
 
Dancing Queen (Chamelaucium uncinatum hybrid) is a unique double variety featuring an abundance of blooms, ranging from soft baby pink through to vibrant candy-pink.

Moonlight Delight PBR (Chamelaucium megalopetalum hybrid) produces masses of red buds in mid-winter, followed by an abundance of white blooms with dark crimson centres in early spring.
 
My Sweet 16 (Chamelaucium uncinatum hybrid) has pure white flowers are borne in early spring. The flowers mature to a rich crimson colour, giving the plant a stunning bi-colour appearance of crimson, white and all shades in-between.

Purple Pride (Chamelaucium uncinatum hybrid) produces unique purple blooms that mature to a beautiful dark magenta.

Raspberry Ripple PBR (Chamelaucium uncinatum hybrid) is a beautiful screening plant, which produces masses of dark pink-crimson blooms on thin stems.
 
Sarah's Delight PBR (Chamelaucium uncinatum hybrid) is a tall shrub which produces masses of bright pink flowers with dark crimson centres during late winter and early spring.
 
Strawberry Surprise PBR (Chamelaucium uncinatum hybrid) has stunning pink flowers, which feature a frilly petal formation, and are borne profusely in spring.

Picture courtesy Elizabeth Donoghue - see her flickr pagePicture courtesy Elizabeth Donoghue - see her flickr pagePicture courtesy Elizabeth Donoghue - see her flickr pageUses:

The geraldton wax plant is one of Australia's most famous wildflowers and all the rage in the cut flower industry throughout the world because the blooms last extremely well in the vase. It was popular in California as far back as the 1940’s, and was introduced into Israel in the 1970’s. Today it is widely grown in many countries, including South Africa, Chile and Peru.

In the Garden:

As part of the xeriscape or drought tolerant garden, the geraldton waxplant can’t be beat for its consistent bloom, ease of care, and tolerant nature.  It is one of those “plant it and forget it” shrubs, and because it has minimal pest and disease issues, low food and moisture needs, and only requires light pruning, is the perfect low maintenance and water-wise shrub for busy gardeners.

It is well worth growing as a screen or wind break, and will add value to any mixed shrub border, providing colour during the bleakest time of the year when very little is in bloom. The geraldton wax plant is also a must-have for picking gardens.  

The sweet fragrance of the flowers and their rich nectar attract butterflies, bees, and other pollinating insects, providing valuable sustenance when food is scarce. On warm, late winter or spring days, spend time outdoors in the sunshine, clipping some stems for the vase and just inhaling their lovely fragrance – geraldton wax plants are a sure promise that spring is on the way.  

Geraldton wax plant Kings Park, Perth, Western Australia. Picture courtesy Dr Mary Gillham Archive Project - see her flickr pageGeraldton wax plant Kings Park, Perth, Western Australia. Picture courtesy Dr Mary Gillham Archive Project - see her flickr pageGeraldton wax plant Kings Park, Perth, Western Australia. Picture courtesy Dr Mary Gillham Archive Project - see her flickr pageCultivation/Propagation:

The healthiest plants are produced by mimicking the plants growing conditions in its native Australia. Shark Bay has a semi-arid climate with hot, dry summers and mild winters - the soils are sandy and moisture is sparse, except during the rainy winter season. Therefore, the plant is easy to grow in a Mediterranean climate, and it thrives in the south and south-western Cape, and other mild, frost free regions of South Africa like the KwaZulu-Natal mist belt.  It will tolerate light frost inland if it is planted in a warm, protected position in the garden, and protected until established. The shrub does not tolerate high humidity or overly wet summer conditions.

Full sun is essential for good flowering, and although this shrub prefers sandy, very well-drained soils, be they acid, neutral or alkaline, for quick establishment in very poor soils, amend the soil with plenty of organic matter and till to a depth of about 25cm. If your soil does not have perfect drainage, add sand or other gritty material to enhance percolation, or grow the plant in a raised bed, or containers.

Young plants will need supplemental irrigation as they establish, and although mature plants can withstand fairly long periods of drought, in the garden they will respond well to intermittent watering in the heat of summer. Avoid overwatering as this can cause root rot.

Because its native soil is so low in nutrients, feeding with commercial fertilisers might actually harm the plant, so only use organic mulch around the roots, and apply a light dressing of bone meal in spring. This mulch will slowly release needed nutrients, as well as protect the root zone from cold, and help prevent weeds from growing. Never dig around the roots of this plant as they resent soil disturbance.

An annual pruning when the plant has finished flowering forces tighter, more compact shrubs and helps to keep the centre of the plant open for light and air. Although the geraldton wax plant can take quite harsh pruning, just cutting back the stems by one third will encourage new shoots, which bear the next season’s blooms.

Propagation from seed is difficult but cuttings of firm, current seasons growth will usually strike readily

Problems, Pests & Diseases:

If grown correctly the geraldton wax plant does not suffer from any serious pests or diseases. It is sensitive to root rot fungus (Phytophora sp.) which is one reason why they can be difficult to grow under humid summer conditions. Other than that, scale is the most likely pest that may occur.

Warning:

We could not find any information on the toxicity of this plant.

In Australia, this species is provisionally classified as schedule 1 under the Sewerage Act. Written approval is required prior to planting it in streets or roads, and it may not be planted closer than two metres to any sewer main or connection.

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