Daviesia ulicifolia

Gorse Bitter-pea

Family: Fabaceae subfamily Faboideae

A rigid, openly-branched shrub potentially growing to a height of up to 2 or 3 metres with a rounded spread to 2 or so meters (often seen smaller) – with prickly-spiny branchlets. It has a divaricate habit – where successive branches are orientated at widely different angles from previous branches – resulting in a tightly interlaced and dense shrub.

It has a very widespread natural, if patchy, geographic distribution: growing commonly along the entire NSW coast and most of the tablelands, from border to border, with patchy occurrences in the western slopes (east of and near to Griffith), extending out to the far south-western plains to the South Australian border (west and north of Mildura), and in the north – as far west as the Pilliga Scrub. It occurs through most of Victoria. There are no records in the far north-western corner of Victoria but it probably occurs here given plants occur around Mildura in NSW. It extends through the coast and tablelands of Queensland and further inland, mostly to about Rockhampton and west of Springsure. However, there are disjunct occurrences between Townsville and Cairns and north-west of Port Douglas. It is found generally through the eastern two-thirds of Tasmania and all of the north coast, as well as the islands of Bass Strait. It is widespread through the southern half of South Australia (from border to border) extending into the southern-central parts of Western Australia, to as far as near Leinster and Queen Victoria Spring Nature Reserve.

It is typically found in dry sclerophyll woodland and forest as well as open shrublands, including mallee shrublands and mulga, and sometimes grasslands. It is a species that does well on disturbed road verges. It is usually found on heavier shale-based soils but can be found on alluvium and sometimes sandy soils (not often on sandstone).

Daviesia spp. have simple leaves modified to phyllodes or rigid scales, arranged alternately. In this species, phyllodes are narrowelliptic, narrow ovate, to ovate, to about 30 mm long and 6 mm wide, new growth is sometimes light green or glaucous, and old growth very dark green or glaucous; sharply pointed with a prominent midrib on the upper surface; the overall foliage is generally rigid and difficult to handle. Some populations are less prickly than others.

Daviesia spp. have pea-flowers (papilionate) which are 5-merous but with the typical pea setup where there is one large rear petal called the “standard”, two fused bottom petals called the “keel” and two lateral petals called “wings”. In this species, flowers are produced in leaf axils as single, paired or sometimes in umbel-like racemes of up to 7 flowers; flowers have hues of orange-yellow and dark red on peduncle up to 3 mm long; occurring from August to October, depending on elevation and latitude.

Flowers are followed by distinctive triangular pods in Daviesia spp. In this species,the fruit is a flattened triangular pod to 8 mm long and to 5 mm wide, brown when ripe.

In the garden

Despite being a very common and interesting species, not a lot is known about its cultivation potential. It may not be a preferable species due to its very prickly habit. However, it would likely benefit and gardener looking to attract small native birds to their patch.

It may be difficult to establish in gardens. It is highly unlikely that propagation is an issue as seedlings can often be found in the bushland readily where plants occur.

Check with local native nurseries for availability.

This species likely prefers a soil with some clay content and reasonable drainage but will likely tolerate a range of soils, in either dappled sunlight or full sun. Mature shrubs can form a nice dense rounded shape which can probably be achieved with good pruning. This plant has a very prickly habit which is likely beneficial to small birds as a refuge from predators.

Daviesia spp. are sometimes grown by enthusiasts but the genus is not in widespread cultivation. This is a pity as there are a number of species that would make excellent subjects for cultivation as they are reasonable hardy species andrequire good drainage and full to half sun to grow at their best.

The seeds are often attacked by caterpillars making collection difficult.


Propagation is easy from seed following pre-treatment to break the physical dormancy provided by the impervious seed coat. Pre-treatment can be carried out by abrasion or by the use of boiling water. The seed retains viability for many years. Cuttings may be successful but are often slow to strike and may not produce a vigorous root system.

Other information

Five subspecies are currently recognised in NSW and more may be recognised across Australia:

subsp. aridicola occurring only in the far west of NSW and into the central areas of Australia – glaucous plants with 2-7 flowers in an inflorescence.
subsp. stenophylla – mainly coastal areas of NSW (north of Bermagui) and into Queensland – only 1 flower per leaf axil and with longer and narrower phyllodes.
subsp. ruscifolia – mainly southern tablelands of NSW and into Victoria – flowers often more orange, 1 per axil, and with shorter and wider phyllodes and rough stems.
subsp. pilligensis central and north-western slopes of NSW (Pilliga Scrub)and slightly into Queensland – flowers often more yellow, 1 per axil and with glabrous stems; longer phyllodes.
subsp. ulicifolia – most of geographic range with the exception of the central area of Australia and northern Queensland – flowers either up to 5 per axil or paired or single; phyllodes variable.    

Daviesia spp. regenerate after fire from seed. Some species can regenerate in large numbers after fire. This species may be able to sucker as well.

Daviesia is a genus of about 120 species, endemic to Australia, occurring in all Australian states and territories. NSW currently has 20 species. Like other genera in their family, Daviesia species have nitrogen-fixing bacteria contained in root nodules. The leaves have a bitter taste (hence the common name).

Daviesia – named for Rev. Hugh Davies (1739 – 1821); a Welsh botanist who was one of the first to describe plants in the Welsh language. The genus was named after him by James Edward Smith.

ulicifolia having foliage like the genus Ulex (gorse) – another genus of pea – some of which are serious weeds in Australia.

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

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

Australian Native Plants Cultivation, Use in Landscaping and Propagation. Sixth edition. John W Wrigley and Murray Fagg. Reed New Holland Publishers, Pty. Ltd. Australia. 2013, profile page 319 for genus Daviesia.

Australian Native Plants Society Australia (ANPSA) – Daviesia ulicifolia profile page https://anpsa.org.au/plant_profiles/daviesia-ulicifolia/

Wikipedia Daviesia ulicifolia profile page  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daviesia_ulicifolia

By Dan Clarke and Jeff Howes.