Bossiaea prostrata

Creeping Bossiaea

Family: Fabaceae | Subfamily: Faboideae

A prostrate shrub, best described as a groundcover, with stems to 0.2 m long and only growing to about 5 cm above ground level. 

It has a large natural distribution in NSW, growing as far north as the northern tablelands (not a great deal on the north coast), south from the border near Jennings, through Armidale, as far west as near Dubbo, as well as areas like Bulahdelah, occurring sporadically through the central western slopes, tablelands and coast as well as the southern counterparts of these divisions. It extends into Queensland, found sporadically between Caboolture and Gladstone. It is very common in Victoria, growing over most of the state with the exception of the north-west. It extends into South Australia, being very common around Adelaide and Mt Gambier, and to Port Augusta. It also occurs over the eastern half of Tasmania.  

It grows in a variety of habitats from coastal heath, grassland as well as dry sclerophyll forest and woodland, on a variety of soils including clay-shale, shale-sandstone transition and sandy loams, often preferring moister locations.

Bossiaea spp. have two ‘versions’ of foliage. Some species have simple (or described as uni-foliolate) and alternate leaves. 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, oval to rounded or oblong, to 15 mm long and 10 mm wide, with a petiole about 5 mm long; dark green on the upper side and paler on the underside.

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 in leaf axils, single or in pairs, to 12 mm long; the standard and wings are orange-yellow (pinkish-brown on the outside or lower surface) with the keel purplish-brown; occurring in spring.

The fruit of all peas is a pod. In this species, it is oblong to 30 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. 

Plants of this species are available commercially from some nurseries. Best planted in a sunny location with reliable drainage. It can also be grown in a pot. It forms a nice groundcover but is generally sparse with its foliage.


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

This species is very similar to Bossiaea buxifolia which can be distinguished by its shorter and more closely-spaced leaves, shorter flower peduncles and growth height to 50 cm tall. 

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.

prostrataLatin prostratus (prostrate) meaning “down flat”, “overthrown” or “laid low” – relating to its prostrate growth habit.

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

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

Wikipedia – Bossiaea prostrata profile page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bossiaea_prostrata

Wrigley, J.W. & Fagg, M.I. (2001). Australian Native Plants – Propagation, cultivation and use in landscaping. 4th edition. New Holland Publishers, Pty. Ltd. Australia.

By Jeff Howes and Dan Clarke