Bossiaea ensata

Sword Bossiaea

Family: Fabaceae subfamily Faboideae

Family: Fabaceae subfamily Faboideae

An erect to low-lying or sprawling (procumbent) shrub, potentially reaching 1.5 m long with a spread to about 1 metre. 

It has an almost purely-coastal distribution in NSW, growing along the entire coastal zone, extending as far west as the Blue Mountains (west of Sydney). It grows as far north as Fraser Island in Queensland (also occurring on Stradbroke Island). It extends into Victoria, found around Mallacoota and extending around the coast to Marlo. 

It is generally found in heathlands and shrublands, close to the coast, as well as dry sclerophyll woodlands and forest, on sandy soils. 

Bossiaea spp. have two ‘versions’ of foliage. Some species have simple leaves (sometimes described as uni-foliolate) and arranaged alternate to oppositely. Other species have leaves reduced with flattened or winged stems modified to cladodes, with mostly only juvenile growth having small leaves. As this is a member of the ‘pea’ family, stipules are present though usually small. In this species, the foliage consists of the cladodes, with leaves only seen on juvenile growth and regrowth to about 2 mm long. The cladodes are winged and flattened, to 10 mm wide, to 1.5 m long and usually grow towards or on the ground; green to blue-green in colour.

Flowers are, of course, pea-shaped (a term sometimes used is papilionate), with 5 petals in a fixed arrangement; the main back petal is called the “standard”, two lateral petals called “wings” and two fused petals at the bottom called the “keel” (in which the anthers and one carpel tend to be hidden). In this species, the flowers are borne mostly singularly at axillary nodes along the cladodes, to 10 mm long, on a pedicel to 4 mm long; the standard and wings are orange-yellow inside and red outside or on the lower surface; the keel is red. Flowering occurs from September to October.

The fruit of all peas is a pod. In this species, it is oblong, to 40 mm long. 

In the garden

Bossiaea species are a particular attractive garden plant of the “bacon and eggs” element of the Australian bush. However they are not often cultivated but are sometimes grown by Australian plant enthusiasts. When species such as B. heterophylla, B. walkeri and B. scolopendria are seen in the wild in full flower, it is hard not to ask “Can I grow this one?”

Reportedly, they are easy enough to grow. It may be simply a matter of acquiring seeds or tubestock from native nurseries or online. Some species are known for not setting a lot of seed and seed can also be hard to germinate in some cases.  

If plants or seeds can be sourced, they are generally readily cultivated in a sunny well-drained position. 

This species is regarded as a reasonably hardy species for sunny or semi-shaded sites in well drained soils (sandy is likely best). It tolerates at least moderate frost and responds to pruning to produce a more densely foliaged plant.


Propagation of Bossiaea seeds needs treatment before sowing. This is done by allowing the seeds, which have a hard seed coat, to stand in boiled water for 12 hours. The softened seeds then swell and are ready for sowing. The seeds are best sown in a mixture of three parts coarse sand and one part peat moss or similar. Seed, however, is not often available but might be sourced online.

Cuttings strike reasonably well from firm, current season’s growth.

Other information

This species is very similar to Bossiaea scolopendria which is distinguished by its wider cladodes and longer flowers; and small bracteoles found above the middle of flower-pedicels. 

Bossiaea is a genus of at least 50 species (likely more), endemic to Australia. They are found in all States and are mostly small to medium shrubs. NSW currently recognises 30 species. 

This species grows in fire-prone habitats and likely regenerates from seed after fire.

Bossiaeanamed after Joseph Hugues Boissieu de la Martinière (1758-1788), a physician and plant collector who participated in the expedition of Jean-Francois de La Perouse in 1785. He disappeared in the Pacific whilst a member of this expedition, when ships were lost in the Solomon Islands. The genus was named by botanist Etienne Pierre Ventenat.

ensatafrom the Latin ensatus, meaning ‘sword-like’, referring to the flattened stems of this species.

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

Australian Native Plants Society Australia – Bossiaea ensata profile page  https://anpsa.org.au/plant_profiles/bossiaea-ensata/

Wikipedia – Bossiaea ensata profile page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bossiaea_ensata

NSW Flora Online (PlantNET) – Bossiaea ensata profile page:          https://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Bossiaea~ensata

By Jeff Howes and Dan Clarke