Bossiaea scolopendria

Family: Fabaceae subfamily Faboideae

An erect, cladode-bearing shrub to a height of up to 1.5 metres, spreading in a clump-like fashion to about 1 metre wide.

It is endemic to NSW, occurring on the central and south coast botanical divisions, as far south as Sassafras (near Nowra), to around the Gosford area.

It is typically found on sandy and sandstone-based soils (i.e., Hawkesbury Sandstone), in heathland, shrubland as well as dry sclerophyll woodland and forest. 

Bossiaea spp. have two ‘versions’ of foliage. Some species have simple leaves (sometimes described as uni-foliolate), arranged either alternate or oppositely. Other species have leaves reduced with flattened or winged stems modified to cladodes, with mostly only juvenile growth having very small leaves. As this is a member of the ‘pea’ family, stipules are present though usually small. In this species, the leaves are reduced to scale leaves, only appearing on juvenile growth or reshooting parts, to about 2 mm long by 0.5 mm wide. The stems forming the foliage are flattened cladodes and have taken over the role of photosynthesis. They are up to 15 mm wide, and green / grey-green, often dividing into several parts, forming branches to 1.5 m long.

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, each flower 10 to 14 mm long on a pedicel 1 to 3 mm long; the standard and keel is bright orange-yellow on the front side and red on the rear-side, with the keel red; mainly occurring from August to September. Flowering can be a very attractive display

All peas produce a pod. In this species, it is oblong, to 45 mm long, containing 5 to 10 seeds.

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, this species it is best cultivated in a sunny well well-drained position on sandy soil. Cultivation details are very scant. Makes an interesting feature plant. It is a very eye-catching plant when in flower. 


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.

scolopendriaoriginates from the Greek skolopendra (σκολοπεντρα) – the ancient gargantuan sea-monster of Greek-mythology. The genus Scolopendra is applied to centipedes. This species epithet presumably relates to the cladode-foliage resembling a centipede.

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

Wrigley, J.W. & Fagg, M.I. (2013). Australian Native Plants – Propagation, cultivation and use in landscaping. 6th Edition. Reed New Holland Publishers, Pty. Ltd. Australia. Pages 285 and 286: Bossiaea and Bossiaea scolopendria profiles.

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

Wikipedia – Bossiaea scolopendria profile page          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bossiaea_scolopendria

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

By Jeff Howes and Dan Clarke