Bossiaea heterophylla

Variable Bossiaea

Family: Fabaceae subfamily Faboideae

Family: subfamily Faboideae

Family: Fabaceae subfamily Faboideae

A shrub that is often seen at about 1 metre tall. 

It has a mostly coastal occurrence in NSW, growing along all coastal parts and extending up into the Blue Mountains. It extends into Victoria, growing disjunctly in the far north-east and then between Bairnsdale and Traralgon (as far west as Rosedale). In Queensland, it extends up the coast to Bundaberg as well as Fraser Island. It occurs in Tasmania, on the north coast in two places and it is listed as threatened here. 

It is found on sandy-sandstone soils in dry sclerophyll forest and woodland, as well as shrubland and heathland.

Bossiaea spp. have two ‘versions’ of foliage. Some species have simple leaves (sometimes described as uni-foliolate) and arranged 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, true leaves are present; appearing simple and alternate, arranged in two rows along the stems (distichous), variably-shaped: linear to broadly ovate, 10 to 30 mm long and to 12 mm wide; stipules are triangular to 1 mm long; 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 have a bright yellow-orange standard, with red-basal markings; orange-yellow wing petals and a dark red keel; with flowers to about 15 mm long and 15 mm wide.

The fruit of all peas is a pod. In this species, it is narrow-oblong to 4 cm long by 1 cm wide.

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.  

This species prefers full sun and well drained sandy soils to grow at its best. At the time of publication of this profile, this Editor just acquired some plants from Sutherland Shire Bushcare Nursery and has planted them on a sloping-sandstone garden – hoping for the best. 


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. Germination can be difficult at times.

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

Other information

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.

heterophyllafrom Greek eteros (ετεροϛ) meaning “other” or “of two” or “different” and phylla (φύλλα) meaning “leaves” – referring to the distinctly different two shapes of the leaves.

This species is not considered to be at risk of extinction in the wild in NSW. It is listed as threatened with extinction in Tasmania with the category of endangered.

Wrigley, J.W. & Fagg, M.I. (2013). Australian Native Plants – Propagation, cultivation and use in landscaping. Reed New Holland Publishers, Pty. Ltd. Australia. Pages 285 and 286: Bossiaea and Bossiaea heterophylla profiles.

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

Wikipedia – Bossiaea heterophylla profile page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bossiaea_heterophylla

By Dan Clarke and Jeff Howes.