Commersonia salviifolia

Family: Malvaceae

C. salviifolia is a medium, spreading shrub, to 4 metres tall. Stems have a cover of short white hairs.

It has a limited area of occupancy in far northern NSW, northwards from around Nimbin and through areas such as Woodenbong and Murwillumbah, into south-east Queensland (to around Caboolture).

In NSW, it is found in mountainous areas or near cliffs, on sandy soil above trachyte and rhyolite in open eucalypt forest, shrubland and montane heath.

Commersonia spp. have simple and alternate leaves. In this species, leaves are up to 12 centimetres long, and 2 centimetres wide, mid-green above, with a dense covering of white hairs beneath. Juvenile growth is white-hairy beneath. The hairs are stellate (star-shaped) – a typical feature of this plant family.

Flowers of Commersonia are 5-merous, broadly star-shaped, and can have small petals with the sepals being the main feature. In this species, flowers are produced in cymes with a few flowers per cyme, white in colour, to 1 centimetre across with petals absent or, if present, very small. Spring is the main flowering period and at this time blooms are both conspicuous and profuse.

The fruits is a woody capsule, to 1 cm diameter, which has 5 valves which also have stellate hairs.

In the garden

Author’s notes:

C. salviifolia is an eye-catching shrub that, once established, has proved to be drought tolerant and frost hardy. Unfortunately the species is not readily available. We bought ours from a native nursery near Bellingen, northern NSW.

The species is worth cultivating for two reasons. Firstly, it is a free flowering, hardy shrub and secondly, C. salviifolia should be brought into cultivation to ensure the long-term survival of the species.

Foliage and flowers are attractive features. It grows naturally on sandy soils and may need this to do well. It may be best to provide some additional water in hot and dry times.


Propagate from cuttings that take root rapidly.

Other information

Commersonia salviifolia was previously known as Rulingia salviifolia. In 2011, all rulingias were moved into the Commersonia genus.

Species of Commersonia likely regenerate from seed after fire. This species can be numerous after fire.

Commersonia, in the broad sense, is a genus with about 58 species, occurring in South-East Asia, the Pcific Islands and Australia with Australia having, in the strict sense, 21 species (more if several genera are lumped). NSW currently has 13 species.

Commersonianamed after Philibert Commerson (1727 – 1773), an 18th century French doctor and naturalist who accompanied de Bougainville on his circumnavigation.

salviifolia – having foliage resembling species of the genus Salvia (Lamiaceae).

This species has a comparitively limited area of occupancy but is not currently considered at risk of extinction in the wild.

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

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