Eremophila debilis, Winter Apple, is a ground cover, almost herbaceous, with a spread of about 1 to 2 metres, growing very low to the ground, often never more than 0.05 metres high.
It has a large natural geographic range in NSW, growing on the central and north coast areas, as well as all tablelands and western slopes botanical subdivisions, west to the east of the western plains (as far west as Deniliquin and Hay). On the coast, it is not found further south than Sydney. It extends northwards into Queensland, through the coast and tablelands and central parts up to Cairns. It is only just found in Victoria, near Boosey and it is listed as critically endangered there. There are records in the north of New Zealand which appear to be introductions.
It is often found in dry sclerophyll woodland, often where soils are a bit moister with a high clay content. It prefers to grow around logs and in heavy leaf litter at the bases of eucalypt-trees.
Eremophila spp. mostly have simple and alternate leaves (sometimes opposite or whorled). In this species, leaves are alternate, lanceolate to elliptic, to about 12 cm long by 2 cm wide, deep green in colour with margins entire or having teeth; with a semi-succulent feel.
Eremophila spp. have 5-merous flowers with the 5 petals usually fused into a tube (tubulate to campanulate) with 5 petal-lobes (often described as 2-lipped with 3 upper lobes and 2 lower), occurring in small-numbered clusters per leaf axil. Flowers are often curved. In this species, five-petalled flowers are white, tinged with lilac, produced singularly or in up to groups of 3 in leaf axils, to about 10 mm long, and appear in spring and summer.
The fruit is a fleshy capsule, to 10 mm diameter that turn purple when ripe and have the appearance of miniature apples, hence the common name.
This could be a useful groundcover to grow although would likely be overlooked for other more attractive ground covers. Nevertheless, it forms a dense mat and can perform a great job and keeping out weeds in the groundlayer. It is hardy once established. It will benefit from additional moisture, in a shady location. The flowers are not overly showy but the fruits are interesting and showy in their own right.
Growth habit, foliage and flowers are attractive features. A dense carpet could be established by planting at 1.5 metre centres. Pinch out growing tips for maximum density.
Winter Apple could also be planted with Myoporum parvifolium, another dense ground cover, to create an eye-catching, colourful, weed suppressing carpet.
Propagate from cuttings that produce roots rapidly.
Eremophila debilis was introduced to England in 1793 and New Zealand after 1830.
Winter Apple was previously known as Myoporum debile. The change was made in 1992 when it was decided that Winter Apple flowers and fruits had more in common with eremophilas than myoporums. This species is an atypical eremophila.
Eremophila can regenerate from the seedbank after fire with some plants able to reshoot from stem buds as well as sucker from basal areas.
Eremophila is a substantial Australian genus of around 220 species with, likely, many undescribed species. Most species are found in Western Australia and other Australian arid zones. They occur in all states except Tasmania. NSW currently has 21 species with some subspecies taxa.
See our 2023 study group article on this genus: https://resources.austplants.com.au/stories/why-do-eremophila-have-resin/
Eremophila – from Greek Erimos (ερημος) meaning “desert” and –philos (φίλος) referring to “friend” or “beloved” – referring to the mostly desert habitats of these plants.
debilis – Latin meaning “weak” or “feeble” – liekly referring to the habit of this plant – more of a herb than a woody shrub.
This species is not considered to be at risk of extinction in the wild in NSW. It is listed as critically endangered in Victoria due to only occurring in one spot.
NSW Flora Online (PlantNET) – Eremophila debilis profile page https://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Eremophila~debilis
VicFlora – The Flora of Victoria Online – Eremophila debilis profile page https://vicflora.rbg.vic.gov.au/flora/taxon/ee890b95-d6ee-47dc-829a-4e7fc7244962
Australian National Herbarium – Eremophila debilis profile page https://www.anbg.gov.au/gnp/gnp10/eremophila-debilis.html