Lambertia formosa

Mountain Devil

Family: Proteaceae

Lambertia formosa is a small to large shrub, growing to potenmtially 4 metres tall by a few metres wide (depending on location and habitat), possessing a lignotuber.

It is confined to NSW, with most of the known distribution in the coastal subdivisions, as far south as a line between Ulladulla and Braidwood and as far north as Woodburn (south of Lismore). This northern population extends south to around Coffs Harbour and west into the northern tablelands to around Tenterfield; and then there is a large disjunction south to Port Stephens. It occurs south of here commonly through the Greater Sydney Basin, extending as far west as the Upper Blue Mountains.

It is typically found in heathland, shrubland and dry sclerophyll woodland and forest, usually on sandy soils though also on shale-sandstone transition soils. 

Lambertia spp. have simple and whorled leaves (sometimes alternate). In this species, juvenile plants tend to have leaves in whorls of 3s and then in 3s or up to 6s in adult plants; to 80 mm long and only 5 mm wide, linear to narrow-oblanceolate, dark green above and paler below with a very prickly mucro at the apex. 

Lambertia spp. produce inflorescences as clusters of 7 flowers in many species, usually at the terminals of a branch. Flowers have the same structure as other Proteaceae flowers consiting of 4 tepals, fused into a tube with 4 hidden anthers and 1 carpel. In this species, flowers are tubular, to 35 mm long, red to pink, glabrous outside and hairy inside, with the style protruding above the tube. The 7 flowers (or less if some have aborted) are surrounded by a ring (involucre) of overlapping bracts; seen most of the year with prime flowering in Spring.

The fruit is a follicle and is very distinctive, consisting of two woody valves with long horns at the ends, with the entire sturcture resembling a dog’s (devil’s) head. Hence the common name (although this species is not confined to mountainous areas). The follicles are about 3 cm long by 1 cm wide.

In the garden

Author’s note:

This is a hardy plant worth growing for its interesting flowers and fruit.

I planted this plant (photographed) about 25 years ago in my garden in the northern Sydney suburb of Westleigh.

It is now approximately 1.6 metres high with multiple branches coming from the base. It is still growing well even though it now receives only dappled morning light and some full late afternoon sun. As well, the soil is much drier very different to the full sun conditions it enjoyed in its early years.

It receives no supplementary watering and after good soaking rains it rewards me with many flowers. The main flowering time is spring and the flowers are erect and enclosed in red overlapping bracts and rich in nectar.

Interestingly the plant only produces a few fruits, a pity as they are most interesting.

See photos:

  • An immature follicle (fruit), it will change colour to brown when mature, note the seed has been nibbled at by a caterpillar, a common occurrence.
  • Close up of the inflorescence

Editor’s notes:

This plant is an excellent addition to any garden for attracting birds. It is prickly and can spread to one metre or more wide, so pick a sensible location. A good barrier plant if protection is needed outside a window. Ensure that the soil has some to good drainage. 


Can be propated by seeds but this can be slow. Cuttings are also challenging. 

Other information

The common name, Mountain Devil, is named for the woody fruits which are bearded and horned. In the 1940s and 1950s, souvenirs were made from the fruit of this plant and sold out of shops.

This species is the only one in NSW. Lambertia is a genus of about 10 species, endemic to Australia. 9 species occur in Western Australia. 

This species regenerates easily after fire, from the seedbank and also from the lignotuber which alows shoots to easily resprout.

Lambertia named after Aylmer Bourke Lambert (1761-1842), an English Botanist who became an expert on the Pinus genus and who took a deep interest in Australian Flora, post-1788. He became the custodian of many herbaria and was keenly active in describing new world flora species.

formosa – Latin meaning ‘beautiful’.

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

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

Australian Native Plants Society Australia – Lambertia formosa profile page https://anpsa.org.au/plant_profiles/lambertia-formosa/

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.