Kunzea capitata

Family: Myrtaceae

An erect or ascending shrub to 2 metres high, (often shorter), usually with a narrow spread, with young stems covered with spreading hairs. 

It has a mostly coastal distribution in NSW, growing from as far south as around Ulladulla on the south coast, and within 50 km further inland, more of less continuously north through to the Sydney area and Blue Mountains (west to Lithgow) where it is very common, to about Newcastle. It is then found in somewhat disjunct patches north along the NSW coast, to south of Lismore. There are also some records on the Northern Tablelands. It may just extend in Queensland (south of Warwick).

Grows in heath and dry sclerophyll woodland and forest, usually on sandy soils and sandstone substrates. 

Kunzea spp. have simple and alternate or opposite to clustered leaves, often aromatic. In this species, they are usually alternate and may spiral around the braches, to 9 mm long and to 4.5 mm wide with 3 main longitudinal veins and the tips pointed to blunt, mid to dark green in colour

Kunzea spp. have conspicuously staminate flowers, like many of their myrtle-relatives, with 5 sepals 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 usually pink to purple (white forms are known) and occur in clusters or heads at the ends of the branches, occurring in Winter to Spring.

The fruit of Kunzea is a capsule. In this species, it is about 4.5 mm long and 2.5 mm wide, which will release many small seeds (up to 50).

In the garden

Author’s notes:

This species has been in cultivation for many years but is not widely grown. It was relatively popular in the 1980s together with K. parvifolia and the author grew them both for a time.

It is hardy plant in well drained, moist soils and grows well in sunny or lightly shaded positions. It withstands at least moderate frost. 

Slow release native plant fertiliser can be advantageous to growth and health of plants.

This is a very showy plant in flower and would bring a burst of colour to any native garden. 

Check with local native nurseries and online for availability. 


Kunzea spp. can generally be propagated by seed or cuttings.

If grown from seed, flowering may take 6 years. However, cuttings taken from semi-hardwood tip cuttings, taken in late spring through to early autumn could produce flowers in one year or two at the latest. 

Better still, grafting onto a suitable rootstock such as Kunzea ambigua can produce flowers within a very short period of time. Grafting creates strong long-lived plants.

Other information

This is a variable species and white-flowered plants are not given separate taxonomic status. Two subspecies are currently recognised in NSW that are mostly geographically separate but local intermediates between the two subspecies do occur where the distributions overlap:

  • subsp. capitata– sepals and upper parts of hypanthium both usually distinctly hairy; leaves mostly with conspicuously tuberculate margins; most of the geographic range on the coast.
  • subsp. seminuda – sepals and upper parts of hypanthium glabrous or markedly less hairy than the lower parts; leaves with smooth or faintly tuberculate margins; Blue Mountains and South Coast areas

Where the two subspecies overlap, they intergrade, e.g. Kings Tableland, Carrington Falls, and south of Sassfras to Tianjara Falls.

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. NSW currently has 15 species.

The genus is diverse and is still undergoing taxonomic study due to hybrids and many subspecies. 

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.  

capitatafrom Latin caput meaning ‘a head’ and the suffix –atus, ‘possessive of’ or ‘likeness to’ – referring to the flowers occurring in terminal heads.

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

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

Australian Native Plants Society Australia – Kunzea capitata profile page  https://anpsa.org.au/plant_profiles/kunzea-capitata/

Wrigley, J.W. & Fagg, M.I. (2001). Australian Native Plants – Propagation, cultivation and use in landscaping. 4th edition. New Holland Publishers, Pty. Ltd. Australia.

Australian Native Plants Society Australia – Kunzea genus article (October 2004) http://anpsa.org.au/APOL2006/aug06-s3.html 

By Jeff Howes. Editing and additional text by Dan Clarke.