Graptophyllum excelsum

Scarlet Fuchsia, Native Fuchsia

Family: Acanthaceae

A shrub to 3 metres tall and 1 metre wide.

It is endemic to Queensland, generally along the coast and ranges from Gladstone to west of Cooktown, with possible records further south towards Brisbane (although these may be naturalisations outside its natural range).

It grows in wet to dry sclerophyll forest and woodland, as well as vine thickets, often on enriched soils, including Limestone-derived.

Graptophyllum spp. have simple and opposite leaves, arranged in a decussate fashion (where each pair of leaves is orientated at right angles to the adjacent pairs). In this species, leaves are to 4 cm long and 1.5 cm wide, obovate to lanceolate or elliptic, usually with entire margins or with 3 teeth along each side towards the apex; leathery in texture and mid to dark green above and paler below.

Graptophyllum spp. have 5-merous bisexual flowers, with the petals fused into a tube, produced in leaf axils or at the terminals, as singular, paired or clustered flowers. In this species, flowers are produced in leaf axils, solitarily or in clusters up to 4, each flower to 30 mm long by 5 mm wide, dark red to purple in colour, in spring and summer.

The fruit is a capsule that can ‘explode’ to release the seeds. It is up to 30 mm long and 5 mm wide.

In the garden

Author’s notes:

This versatile and hardy plant can grow in Melbourne (or so some gardening books suggest) and is resistant to light frosts. In my northern Sydney suburban garden, my two plants have grown to about 3 m high and 1 m wide with multiple stems.

I am growing them in a position that receives morning sun and afternoon shade and I try not to let them dry out for any length of time.

I find Graptophyllum excelsum to be an attractive foliage plant and outstanding in flower. The flowers are occur in spring and early summer. This is a good flowering season for me (due to a wet year) and the flowers cover every branch – very attractive. These flowers which are very attractive to birds.

Mature plants can get quite leggy with all the growth at the top, so after flowering, I cut about 1/3 of the stems back quite hard as this promoted new growth down low, making the plant more attractive (well to me anyway).

It is recommended to grow this species in mostly shade on an enriched soil. It is slow growing but makes a very stunning plant over the long term.


The preferred propagation method is by cuttings.

Other information

Fire response is unknown. It may be able to regenerate from seed as well as from suckering.

Graptophyllum is a genus of about 9 species, occurring in Australia, New Guinea and New Caledonia. Australia has at least 3 species, with some found in Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia. NSW has no species.

Graptophyllumfrom Greek Graptos (γραπτός) “write on” or “to write” and phyllo (φύλλο) – a “leaf” referring to the markings on the leaf (especially noticeable on G.ilicifolium);

excelsum Latin excelsus, “tall” or “lofty” – referring to the potentially tall habit.

This species is listed as near-threatened under Queensland legislation.

Queensland Government – Graptophyllum excelsum profile page       https://apps.des.qld.gov.au/species-search/details/?id=15850

Australian Native Plants Society Australia – Graptophyllum excelsum profile page https://anpsa.org.au/plant_profiles/graptophyllum-excelsum/

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