Callistemon rugulosus

Scarlet Bottlebrush

Family: Myrtaceae

A straggly shrub in the wild, up to four metres tall.

The species occurs in south-eastern South Australia and mainly western Victoria (some records in central Victoria). It is found on sandy creeklines and flats in dry sclerophyll woodlands and forests.

The bark is grey and peels.

Callistemon spp. have simple and alternate to spiral leaves. In this species, the leaves are thick and rigid, up to 50 millimetres long and to 7 millimetres wide and crowned with a pungent point. Large oil glands are clearly visible on the lower surface.

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. The compact flower spikes are up to 80 millimetres long and 50 millimetres wide and dark crimson with prominent, bright yellow anthers.

Capsules are to 9 mm diameter, arranged in the same spike-like structure along branches.

In the garden

A hardy shrub with a history of cultivation. It grows reliably in a sunny spot with good drainage.

Plant on a sandy to loam soil for best results. Ensure some additional watering in hot and dry times.

Author’s note: In our cold climate garden, annual pruning has kept this species to a compact two metres.The lengthy flowering period extends from late spring to autumn. Cut off each brush as it fades. This encourages fresh shoots and more blooms.

Callistemon rugulosus survives and thrives in dry, well drained situations in our cold climate garden.


Propagate from seed and cuttings.

We prefer cutting propagation as plants mature faster than seed-grown specimens.

Other information

The Scarlet Bottlebrush was first exported to Europe by early French expeditions in 1811. This was during the Napoleonic War between Britain and France.

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.

rugulosus – Latin meaning “rough” – referring to the oil glands on the leaves which create a rough surface.

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

VicFlora – Flora of Victoria Online – Callistemon rugulosus profile page https://vicflora.rbg.vic.gov.au/flora/taxon/71ba1223-aa97-4058-a691-d11b90707430

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

Plant Selector – Botanic Gardens of South Australia – Callistemon rugulosus profile page http://plantselector.botanicgardens.sa.gov.au/Plants/Details/1197

By Warren and Gloria Sheather. Editing and additional text by Dan Clarke