Chorizema cordatum

Heart-leaf Flame Pea

Family: Fabaceae subfamily Faboideae

Chorizema cordatum, the Heart-leaf Flame Pea, is a native of south-western Western Australia and develops into a spreading shrub reaching a height of one metre. It is relatively hardy when grown in humid areas on the east coast of Australia.

Leaves are heart-shaped up to six centimetres long with a leathery texture. Sprays of orange-red, pea-shaped flowers cover plants in spring. 

There are 25 Chorizema species, all endemic to Western Australia with one exception. Chorizema parviflorum is native to NSW and Queensland. Chorizema cordatum is the most widely cultivated species.

In the garden

The Heart-leaf Flame Pea is a colourful small shrub that would be at home in native cottage gardens and rockeries. Tip pruning is beneficial after flowering.

From Jeff Howes in his Sydney garden:

I have been growing Chorizema cordatum for many years in my garden in the northern Sydney suburb of Westleigh and when in flower it is always commented on.

It is a small, scrambling shrub usually about a metre high by about a metre spread. The very brightly coloured orange-red pea flowers are relatively large (about 10-12 mm diameter) and appear in late winter to early spring. I am also growing a form with pure yellow flowers and most visitors to my garden are not that impressed with the soft yellow flowers, although I happen to like it.

Chorizema cordatum is best grown as an understorey plant where its thin, weak branches can be supported by other plants. Grown on its own, as the one in the photo is, requires the plant to be staked and the branches supported, not ideal.

My plants are growing in a thin layer of topsoil over a clay sub soil that is quite well drained. I ensure they have some moisture in drier times as this plant performs much better with some moisture. I have lost most of my plants due to excessive dryness. After flowering I prune the plant back by at least one third to half. This drastic pruning ensures plenty of new growth and flowers the following year.

Chorizema cordatum is a great plant for that difficult spot in the garden that receives only dappled light and needs to be “brightened up” in late winter. If they are grown in full sun you will find the flowers fade and lose a lot of their visual impact. A ‘must have’ plant for any garden.

Propagation

Propagate from seed or cuttings. We find that cuttings produce roots rapidly and they flower much sooner than seed grown plants.

Other information

The genus name is said to mean choros, a dance and zena, a drink and was named by La Billardiere in 1799. La Billardiere was a French botanist and on an expedition in Western Australia his party ran low on water. Fortuitously they came across a waterhole in the nick of time and danced for joy. A Chorizema was growing close by and was named in recognition of finding water and dancing for joy. This is course may be an apocryphal story with no basis in fact.

The thumbnail is an illustration of the type specimen named by John Lindley in 1838 and growing in the garden of Robert Mangles, Sunning Hill Berkshire UK.

By Warren and Gloria Sheather, Jeff Howes