Callistemon phoeniceus

Lesser Bottlebrush

Family: Myrtaceae

Callistemon phoeniceus is an erect shrub that reaches 6 metres in the wild.

Callistemon phoeniceus is one of only two callistemons endemic to Western Australia. This species is found in the south-west corner, to north-east of Kalgoorlie and north of Murchison-area. It grows naturally along watercourses and in depressions on sandy soils.

Callistemon spp. have simple and alternate to spiral leaves. In this species, juvenile leaves are light green whilst adult foliage is an interesting grey-green (see thumbnail).

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 adult foliage provides a contrast with the brilliant red flower spikes, to 15 cm long by up to 5 cm wide, that appear from late winter to early summer. Flowering extends for many weeks.

The capsules are woody, to about 8 mm across.

In the garden

This species is known to be cultivated and is regarded as one of the most spectacular bottlebrushes due to its bright red inflorescences.

Author’s Note: At our property, Yallaroo (a cold-climate garden), we have a number of specimens that are surviving and thriving in dry, well-drained situations.

Honeyeaters are attracted to the flowers.Remove the spent flowers. This keeps plants dense and flowering profusely.

Callistemon phoeniceus could be cultivated in an informal hedge or low windbreak. There is a dwarf form known as Callistemon phoeniceus ‘Prostrate’.

Plant in full sun with reasonable to good drainage. It will likely do better on sandy soils with some moisture. The species will cope with frosts and drought but will do better if water is provided in hot and dry times.

Prune after flowering to create a denser bush and promote more flowers the following season. Also fertiliser after flowering with a suitable native fertiliser.


Propagate from seed or 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.

phoeniceus – Ancient Greek via Latin – phoinī́keos (φοινῑ́κεος) – meaning “crimson” or “purple-red” – referring to the colour of the inflorescences.

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

Western Australian Herbarium – Florabase – the Western Australian Flora – Callistemon phoeniceus profile page https://florabase.dpaw.wa.gov.au/browse/profile/5395

Australian National Herbarium – Callistemon phoeniceus profile page https://www.anbg.gov.au/gnp/gnp9/callistemon-phoeniceus.html

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. Editing and additional text by Dan Clarke