A tall shrub or small tree that may reach a height of eight metres, making this the tallest Kunzea species in the world.
It occurs in a very small area of NSW, between Taree to Port Macquarie and Kempsey – growing within about 50 km of the coast. It occurs in areas such as Middle Brother National Park and surrounds.
It grows in wet sclerophyll forests, growing on granite and conglomerate soils.
Branches are pendulous.
Kunzea spp. have simple and alternate or opposite to clustered leaves, often aromatic. In this species, the small leaves are linear and tightly clustered, to 6 mm long by 1 mm wide, with an acute apex, dark green in colour.
Kunzea spp. have conspicuously staminate flowers, like many of their myrtle-relatives, with 5 sepals and petals, in a range of colours, white, red, purple, pink or yellow (depending on species). Each flower has numerous stamens surrounding one carpel. Flowers are usually produced in high numbers in terminal or sub-terminal clusters or heads; rarely as solitary flowers or in clusters of 2s or 3s. In this species, the flowers are produced solitarily in leaf axils, but crowded in a leafy raceme-like group; white in colour to about 5 mm across, occurring in Summer.
The fruit of Kunzea is a capsule. In this species, it is about 3 mm long and 2 mm wide, which will release many small seeds (up to 50).
There are now a large number of specimens surviving and thriving in our cold climate garden (near Armidale, NSW). In summer the plants become covered in characteristic fluffy white flowers. At this time, plants become the focal point of where they are situated in the garden.
Not a great deal is known about the cultivation of this species and it was only described in 2016. It grows in wet sclerophyll forest on rocky substrates and so may need similar garden conditions to thrive. Check with local native nurseries for availability.
Propagation is by seed and cuttings. We prefer cutting propagation as the resultant plants flower much sooner than seed grown plants. In the garden we now have a number of self-sown specimens.
Many years ago, we were on a plant collecting trip for the University of New England on the NSW North Coast. Near the village of Comboyne, inland from Taree, we came across a small tree with pendulous growth habit and small, aromatic leaves. Cutting material was collected and identified as Kunzea sp. A. becoming, a few years later, Kunzea sp. ‘Middle Brother’ – which is now formally described as K. axillaris.
Kunzea is a genus of about 60 species, found in Australia and New Zealand. Australia has about 50 species – all endemic. Some species are used for essential oil. The genus is diverse and is still undergoing taxonomic study due to hybrids and many subspecies. NSW currently has 15 species.
Kunzea spp. will generally profusely sucker from root zones after fire, as well as regenerate from seed.
Kunzea – named after Gustav Kunze (1793-1851) – a German professor of zoology and an entomologist and botanist. Kunze was eventual Director of the Botanic Gardens of Leipzig. The genus was named after him by botanist Ludwig Reichenbach.
axillaris – Latin – referrring to ‘axils’ – named due to the flowers occurring in the leaf axils, rather than in terminal heads.
This species is not considered to be at risk of extinction in the wild but does occur in a limited area and is not often seen.
NSW Flora Online (PlantNET) – Kunzea axillaris profile page https://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Kunzea~axillaris
Wikipedia – Kunzea axillaris profile page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kunzea_axillaris