Callistemon salignus

Willow Bottlebrush

Family: Myrtaceae

Callistemon salignus is a tall shrub or small tree, potentially reaching 10 m tall with paper-bark (in the Melaleuca-fashion).

It is thought to occur naturally as far south as the Jervis Bay area in New South Wales, extending north through the coastasl, as well as central western slopes areas (as far west as near Dunedoo) and extending into Queensland, as far north as around Bundaberg.

It is typically found in low-lying river-flats and creeklines, in dry sclerophyll woodland and swampy shrublands but also sometimes found in drier habitats.

Callistemon have simple and alternate leaves, often in a spiral arrangement. In this species, leaves are narrow-elliptical, to 9 cm long and 1.5 cm wide, soft-textured, and attentuating at both ends; pale green with numerous oil dots; the juvenile foliage is bright pink.

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 spikes are to 5 cm long by 3.5 cm wide, creamy white to yellow with stamens to about 15 mm long; produced in spring.

The fruit of Callistemon is a woody capsule which are produced in the same spike-like structure of the flowers. In this species, they are 5 mm in diameter.

In the garden

A hardy and useful tree to grow in a garden if room permits it. They grow reliably well on a range of soils and make good habitat for birds. They can be pruned back hard if a rounded smaller shrub is desired. The paper-bark is also an attractive feature, as is the new pink foliage.

Best grown in full sun on a well-drained soil but some temporary wet soil will be tolerated.

Honeyeaters are attracted to the nectar-rich brushes. In our cold climate garden, Eastern Spinebills and Noisy Friarbirds (Leatherheads) are frequent visitors.

There is a cultivar known as ‘Great Balls of Fire’ that has red-juvenile foliage. This cultivar is said to produce few flowers.

Trees can readily self-seed in a garden as well as bushland so be aware of this.


Propagate from seed or cuttings. “Great Balls of Fire” should be grown from cuttings to preserve the coloured foliage.

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.

This species can regenerate from seed after fire. Plants can also reshoot from basal coppicing, and epicormic shoots.

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

salignus – Latin meaning “willow” – referring to the willow-like habit of the species.

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

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

Wikipedia – Melaleuca salicina profile page                                https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melaleuca_salicina

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.