Bossiaea obcordata

Spiny Bossiaea

Family: Fabaceae subfamily Faboideae

An erect, rigid shrub that grows to a height of 1.5 metres, usually with a narrow spread.

It has a large natural geographic range, growing mostly on the central and south coast botanical subdivisions but extending into the northern and central tablelands as well as the adjoining western slopes. It grows sporadically on the southern tablelands, as far west as Queanbeyan and, further north, as far west as around Coonamble. It just extends into Queensland, in the Jennings-Stanthorpe-Inglewood regions. It is common in Victoria, growing in much of the eastern regions through Orbost and Bairnsdale, as far west as around Heyfield, then with a disjunction to the west of Melbourne. There is currently a single herbarium record in Tasmania, north of Fingal.

It is found in grows in dry sclerophyll woodland, forest and heathland, usually on sandstone-soils.  

It has flattened branchlets that become spiny with age – a useful identification feature.

Bossiaea spp. have two ‘versions’ of foliage. Some species have simple leaves (sometimes described as uni-foliolate), arranged alternately or 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 alternate, broadly ovate to heart-shaped (obcordate), to almost round, to 6 mm long and wide on a petiole to 2 mm long, dull 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, flowers are borne singularly in leaf axils, to 10 mm long, on a pedicel to 5 mm long; the standard is bright yellow with red markings; the wings and keel yellow and often with purplish-brown markings. 

The fruit of all peas is a pod. In this species, they are ovate to obovate, to 2 cm 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. 

Not a lot is known about the cultivation of this species. It may be hard to source from nurseries. Check with native nurseries for availability. It likely needs a well-draining soil in some sun for best results. Can likely tolerate frosts. It has spiky branches so may provide habitat values but consider where it is placed in the garden.  


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. 

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.

obcordata Latin referring to the ‘obcordate’ shape of the leaves i.e. heart-shaped with the petiole at the tapering end.

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

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

Wikipedia profile page for Bossiaea obcordata https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bossiaea_obcordata

INaturalist – Photos of Spiny Bossiaea (Bossiaea obcordata)                https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/83373-Bossiaea-obcordata/browse_photos 

By Dan Clarke and Jeff Howes.