Actinotus helianthi

Flannel flower

Family: Apiaceae

A soft-wooded shrub, growing to one meter in good conditions. It grows mainly in coastal NSW, in open forest and woodland as well as heaths. It also grows inland on the western slopes and tablelands extending into southern Queensland, as far north as Carnarvon Gorge and Isla Gorge, in sclerophyll woodland and shrublands.

The stem, branches and leaves of the plant are a pale grey in colour, covered in downy hair with a flannel texture.

The attractive strongly lobed leaves are divided into segments, roughly of three, alternately arranged and are an attractive grey-green colour, up to 10 cm long and 7 cm wide.

The general flower structure resembles a daisy. However, this plant is in the Apiaceae family where flowers are typically arranged in umbels. In this genus, the umbel is surrounded by petal-like bracts with a flannel texture.

The umbels are an umbrella-like arrangement of flowers where all flowers are set in a circular arrangement on a single peduncle. The umbels are to about 2 cm across and consist of around 50 very small 5-petaled white flowers where the outer flowers are male, and inner flowers bisexual. The conspicuous bracts are up to 4 cm long by about 0.5 cm wide and are bright white. Flowering occurs in spring and may be profuse after bushfire.

The fruit is a cluster of mericarps (nutlets) that split apart and disperse.

In the garden

It is relatively easy to cultivate in a sunny position with well drained sandy soils or in raised beds with summer watering.

Plants may not be long lived but, once established, will often “self-sow”. Plants will struggle to grow in clay soils.

It is popular in cultivation and very pleasing results can be obtained in terms of numbers of flowering umbels on a plant.

Likes a well-drained soil, being native to sandy soils or shallow rocky soils of low fertility. Sloping beds work really well. It tolerates mild frost once established.

Prune lightly after flowering to encourage more heads.


Propagation from cuttings is reasonably successful using 75 – 100 mm of stem.

Late summer is a good time to take cuttings which should not be put under mist. Propagation from seed is unreliable. Good results have been reported by setting fire to a mulch layer placed over the seed bed (to simulate a bushfire….”Flannel Flowers” often appear in their thousands after fires).

Seeds can be unreliable.

If growing from seeds need care when transplanting to disturb the roots as little as possible.

Other information

Actinotus ‘Federation Star’, and was chosen to be the New South Wales floral emblem for the Centenary of Federation (1901–2001). It is a selected cultivar from the Australian Botanical garden at Mount Annan.

Actinotus is a genus of about 15 species – occurring in Australia and New Zealand. 14 species are endemic to Australia, occurring in all states except for South Australia. NSW currently has 5 species

This species regenerates profusely from seed after fire, and mass flowering events are common, especially in coastal heath.

It can be used as a cut flower.

Actinotus – referring to “rays“, “furnished with rays” and “radius” (Gk. ακτίνο / ακτίνος).

helianthi – from Greek – Helianthus-like, which is the Sunflower genus (although that genus is in the daisy family).

This species is not considered to be at risk of extinction in the wild.

Wikipedia – Actinotus heliathi profile page

Australian National Botanic Gardens – Actinotus helianthi profile page

A Horticultural Guide to Australian Plants, Society for Growing Australian Plants (now Native Plants Queensland), 1980

By Jeff Howes. Editing and additional text by Dan Clarke.