Epacris microphylla

Coral heath

Family: Ericaceae subfam. Epacridoideae

A shrub, generally to 1 metre tall (sometimes taller) with a narrow spread usually consisting of erect narrow stems that are well-separated.

E. microphylla grows mainly up and down the coast and tablelands divisions of NSW. It grows through north-eastern Victoria to Melbourne. In Queensland, it grows up the coast including on Fraser Island, with disjunct populations north of Bundaberg and Rockhampton. It also grows through amuch of Tasmania.

It is found generally in swampy and dry coastal heath, as well as dry sclerophyll woodland and forest on sandstone and granite. It typically grows on sandstone and sandy soils.

Epacris spp. have simple leaves which are either generally alternate but arranged in a condensed fashion on the stems in overlapping arrangements or scattered; and with parallel venation which can be best seen on the undersides. Sometimes, the base of leaves clasps the stem. In this species, leaves are small and rigid, to 3 mm long and abuot 2 mm wide and dark green; with shape varying slightly from ovate to heart-shaped to rhombic, sometimes with a small attenuating point; and clustered very architecturally along the stem.

Epacris spp. have 5-petaled flowers with petals separated to produce a “star-shape” or fused into a tube. In this species, starry-white flowers are produced solitarily in leaf axils but extending down branches to form leafy inflorescences. The flowers are white and often pink-tipped in bud, and about 7 mm across.

Epacris spp. produce a capsule, which is only about 2 mm long in this species.

In the garden

E. microphylla is an attractive and reportedly hardy garden plant as long as it is grown in well-drained soil, growing to 1 metre or a little taller if adequate moisture is present.

Ideally, it needs a consistently moist but not over wet soil. Prune after flowering to keep compact and promote flowering. Mulch around the base will help retain soil moisture. A good container plant. Trialling plants in a pot may be best for some gardens. Likely useful for attracting bees and other insects.

No recorded problems but may be temperamental like many others in this subfamily of heaths.

Note: The ‘epacrids’ or ‘Australian Heaths’ (meaning family Ericaceae subfam. Epacridoideae (previously family Epacridaceae) are a notoriously difficult group of plants to grow in Australian gardens. They are very attractive but do not usually survive well in garden conditions. This is likely due to specific relationships that this plant group has with mycorrhizal fungi (root-fungi) along with difficulties in re-creating their natural specific habitats (such as wet sandstone heathland) in gardens. Native nurseries continue to progress in propagation and so all we can do is trial them and hope for the best. Some Epacris species were successfully cultivated in England in the early days for a time.


From cuttings as seed is hard to collect.

Other information

This species like regenerates from seed after fire.

Epacris is a genus of about 40 species found in Australia and New Zealand. Australia has 38 species, with most being endemic, occurring in all states except Northern Territory and Western Australia. NSW currently has 31 species.

The ‘epacrid’ family has undergone the following reclassifications:

  • From Family Epacridaceae to Family Ericaceae (named for Erica) subfam. Styphelioideae (named for Styphelia)
  • From subfam. Styphelioideae to subfam. Epacridoideae (named for Epacris)

Epacris – from the Greek epi– (επι) meaning “on” or “upon” and akris from akri (άκρη) “edge” referring to the often found rocky and cliff habitat of species in the genus.

microphylla – from the Greek micro (μικρο) meaning “small” and phylla (φύλλα) meaning “leaves” – referring to the very small leaves of this species.

This species is not considered to be at risk of extinction in the wild. It is considered to be ‘near threatened’ in Victoria.

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

Gardening with Angus – Epacris microphylla profile page

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 Jeff Howes. Editing and additional text by Dan Clarke.