Bottlebrush, Bottelborsel - Callistemon

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'Endeavour' 'Endeavour' Callistemon is a genus of about 30 species in the Myrtle family (Myrtaceae); and is closely related to paperbarks and honey myrtles (Melaleuca). All except four species are endemic to Australia and they can be found growing from Australia's tropical north to the temperate south; with the other four species occurring in New Caledonia.

Callistemon are commonly referred to as bottlebrushes because of their cylindrical, brush like flowers resembling a traditional bottle brush. In the wild they typically favour damp or wet conditions such as along creek beds, in coastal swamps or in areas which are prone to floods; but some species are quite drought resistant. The beautiful Crimson Bottlebrush (Callistemon citrinus) was introduced to Kew Gardens in London by Joseph Banks in 1789, 'Perth Pink' Picture courtesy Steyns Nursery'Perth Pink' Picture courtesy Steyns Nursery quickly gained popularity in Europe.  A large number of bottlebrush cultivars have been developed, many of them hybrids with either Callistemon viminalis or Callistemon citrinus as one parent.

Most cultivars grown in South Africa will flower in spring and again in autumn, but climatic conditions may cause flowering at other times of the year. The obvious parts of the flower masses are actually made up of a number of individual flowers. The pollen of the flower forms on the tip of a long coloured stalk called a filament. It is these filaments which give the flower spike its colour and distinctive 'bottlebrush' shape; most are red or shades of pink to mauve, but some species are yellow, green, orange or white. The nectar is irresistible to nectar-feeding 'Captain Cook' Picture courtesy'Captain Cook' Picture courtesy, butterflies and insects. Woody fruits containing hundreds of tiny seeds follow the flowers and are usually held on the plant for many years before dispersing their seeds, but in some species the fruits open after about a year. Fire also stimulates the opening of the fruits in some species. The new leaves of many bottlebrushes are coloured and very ornamental; often covered with soft hairs and releasing a lovely fragrance when crushed.

These beautiful low maintenance shrubs make good screening plants, windbreaks, or tall clipped or unclipped hedges; the dwarf varieties can also be clipped into small hedges. They can be espaliered as a quick wall cover; and the taller varieties, especially the weeping bottlebrush, can be trained into lovely small trees. They are wonderful in the mixed shrub border and grow beautifully in containers.

'Mauve Mist Picture courtesy'Mauve Mist Picture courtesy family of evergreen Australian shrubs and trees is well suited to many of South Africa's growing regions; and doing exceptionally well in the southern, south-western and western Cape. They will grow in dry regions if they can be watered regularly and will tolerate windy conditions, both inland and on the coast; tolerating some salt spray but performing best in a more sheltered position. They are hardy to moderate frost, but it would be wise to protect young plants in colder regions until they are established. Plants thrive in full sun and are adaptable to most garden soils, including clay.

Plants can be lightly pruned after flowering to keep them in shape and this usually entails only pruning into the new seasons 'wood', and not cutting back into the interior of the plant where there is little or no foliage. Very old specimens may sometimes regenerate from basal pruning (cutting the entire plant down right to the ground).

'Little John' Picture courtesy'Little John' Picture courtesy are easily grown from seed sown into a well-drained seedling mix during spring and summer. The unopened fruits should be collected and stored in a warm place in a paper bag until the fine seeds are released. Because bottlebrushes hybridise readily, if you wish to be sure that you are preserving the features of the parent plant you will need to grow your plants from cuttings; with all cultivars it is essential to propagate from cuttings to retain the form of the parent plant. Cuttings should be taken from semi-mature summer wood, or from stem tip cuttings taken in spring or early summer. Cuttings can be rooted in a mix of peat moss and coarse sand; keep moist.

(Callistemon citrinus) Red Bottlebrush, Lemon Bottlebrush. The red bottlebrush can be grown as a large shrub or small tree and is widely cultivated for its copper coloured new growth and its bright red flower-spikes. It will grow +-2 to 4m tall with almost an equal spread; and prefers acid and neutral soils, even growing in very acid soils. The leaves release a lemon scent if bruised and are a tea substitute with a delightfully refreshing flavour.

(Callistemon citrinus 'Endeavour') Crimson Bottlebrush. 'Endevour' is a dense large shrub or small tree with dark green rigid leaves and brilliant scarlet flowers ; very often appearing through the year. It is an excellent hedging variety or little tree for small gardens; and grows beautifully in large pots. It is a popular choice in coastal plantings, and is quite hardy to frost once established. Plants grow to +-2 to 3m tall with an equal spread.

(Callistemon citrinus 'Mauve Mist') Mauve Bottlebrush. 'Mauve Mist' produces large lilac-pink flowers and the new tip growth is pink and densely covered with silky hairs. This cultivar forms a dense shrub to a height of +-2 to 3m with an equal or slightly wider spread. It is a great feature or screening plant.

(Callistemon citrinus 'Perth Pink') Pink Bottlebrush. 'Perth Pink' is a fast growing small flowering tree with lovely arching branches and attractive silvery pink new leaves and pink flowers. It will grow +-4 to 5m tall with an equal but can be trimmed back and kept as a large shrub or screening plant.  It is semi-hardy to moderate frost and will grow in full sun or semi-shade.

(Callistemon viminalis) Weeping Red Bottlebrush. This beautiful bottlebrush can grow 4 to 7m tall and develops a graceful weeping habit. It can easily be trained to grow as a small tree or large shrub and produces its red flowers over a long period in spring and summer. It is ideal for coastal areas and tolerates moderate wind.

(Callistemon viminalis 'Captain Cook') Dwarf Red Bottlebrush. This cultivar has narrow leaves and produces masses of red brushes; it forms a dense, slightly weeping shrub 1.5 to 2m tall with an equal spread. Captain Cook is wonderful in small gardens and containers, and makes a lovely low hedge or screen. It is excellent for coastal gardens, and adapts well to inland gardens; growing in full sun or semi-shade.

(Callistemon citrinus 'Little John') Dwarf Bottlebrush. This very free flowering small shrub has pretty blue-green leaves and produces masses of crimson flowers. It is wonderful for small gardens and containers; and can be trimmed into s small hedge. It is frost hardy and grows fairly slowly to +-1 to 2m tall in full sun or semi-shade. An occasional light pruning will keep it smaller, encourage new growth a give a good flush of flowers.

Additional Info

  • Common Name: Bottlebrush, Bottelborsel
  • Latin Name: Callistemon