Callistemon formosus

Cliff Bottlebrush, Kingaroy Bottlebrush

Family: Myrtaceae

Callistemon formosus is a tall shrub that may reach a height of five metres with a spread of three metres; with a pendulous growth habit.

It has very limited distribution and is found in rocky places in or near rainforests. Originally the species was thought to be restricted to the Kingaroy area, southern Queensland. However, it has also been found in northern NSW, west of Tenterfield in a very limited area.

Callistemon spp. have simple and alternate to spiral leaves. In this species, the leaves are narrow, up to eight centimetres long and one centimetre wide. Juvenile growth is slightly hairy and purplish pink in colour.

In Callistemon species, flowers are usually arranged in spikes (the “bottlebrush”) which are produced at the terminals but which the stem then grows past, into a leafy shoot. Flowers have five small circular sepals and five circular petals which persist on the flowers. Like many other Myrtaceae genera, the flowers are conspicuously staminate with each flower having many stamens surrounding one carpel. The stamens are typically free although may be fused at the basal parts (a generally useful identifying feature for the genus to distinguish it from Melaleuca). The pedicels of the flowers are very short. In this species, the cream to pale-yellow flower spikes, that appear in late spring, are about eight centimetres long and three centimetres across.

Capsules are to 6 mm diameter, arranged in the same spike-like structure along branches.

In the garden

A nice bottlebrush to grow and it is known to be cultivated. It has a weeping habit which is also desirable. It can be sourced from some nurseries and is available online for sale.

Author’s note: The specimens, in our cold climate garden, are two metres tall four years after planting. As with all bottlebrushes, the flower spikes should be cut off when they fade. This will encourage new growth and promote a plethora of brushes during the next flowering period. One description states that the species is suitable for tropical and frost-free areas. It will likley suffer in frost. We have a number of specimens surviving and thriving in our cold climate garden.

Typically hardy but perhaps give some water in very hot and dry times.


Propagate from seed or cuttings. Callistemon formosus has proved to be one of the easiest bottlebrushes to propagate from cuttings.

Other information

The genus Callistemon has been subject to recent taxonomic revision with early and recent botanists including Ferdinand von Mueller and Lyndley Craven (deceased in 2014) proposing to ‘lump’ the genus into Melaleuca and others. Craven et al. (2014) published new species combinations which included the renaming of all Callistemon species to Melaleuca, based on evolutionary relationships and DNA evidence and other features.

Currently, the NSW Herbarium advises that the Callistemon genus can still be used. There are currently about 30 species of Callistemon, which are found in all states of Australia as well as New Caledonia. About 28 are endemic to Australia. NSW currently recognises 24 species. New species have been described in the last 20 years.

Regenerates after fire from epicormic and basal shoots as well as from the seedbank.

Callistemon – From the Ancient Greek – Callos (κάλλος) – meaning “beautiful” (which is changed to κάλλη to describe a noun) and and stêma (στῆμα) meaning “stamen”, referring to the very showy staminate flowers of the bottle-brush inflorescences.

formosus – Latin meaning “beautiful” or “handsome”, referring to the apperance of the plant.

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

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

Wikipedia – Melaleuca formosa profile page                            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melaleuca_formosa

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 Warren and Gloria Sheather