Bossiaea stephensonii

Family: Fabaceae subfamily Faboideae

An erect, soft, multi-stemmed shrub, growing to a height of up to about 1 metre.

It is an endemic species to NSW, only found on the central and north coast botanical subdivisions, from as far south as between Gerringong-Kangaroo Valley area, to mostly Port Stephens, but with a disjunction around Port Macquarie.

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

Bossiaea spp. have two ‘versions’ of foliage. Some species have simple (sometimes 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 elliptic to ovate, to 20 mm long and 7 mm wide, with a sharply-pointed apex which also recurves downwards; green to blue green. The stipules are comparatively longer, to 10 mm long, triangular and erect.

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 singly in leaf axils, each flower to 12 mm long, on a pedicel up to 7 mm long. The standard is bright yellow with red-markings; wings are also bright yellow and the keel is red. Flowering occurs from August to October 

All peas produce a pod as a fruit. In this species, it is oblong, to 25 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.  

Not a lot is known about the cultivation of this particular species but it is sold online at at least one nursery. Plants may be difficult to source but check with native nurseries. This would be an attractive plant in any garden. Likely needs a well-drained sandy soil to thrive in a sunny position.   


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.

stephensoniinamed after Lawrence Stephenson – a botanical collector in NSW, active between 1886-1930 (there is little information about him online). The species was named after him by Ferdinand von Mueller. 

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

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

Wikipedia – Bossiaea stephensonii profile page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bossiaea_stephensonii

Plants of South Eastern New South Wales – Lucid Identification App/Online –                              Bossiaea stephensonii profile page https://apps.lucidcentral.org/plants_se_nsw/text/entities/bossiaea_stephensonii.htm

By Jeff Howes and Dan Clarke