Philotheca scabra

Wax flower

Family: Rutaceae

A small shrub to 0.6 metres tall, spreading to about 1 metre wide with stems having rough hairs.

It is considered to be endemic to NSW (it appears there are some erroneous marked locations of records online, both in Victoria and close to the Victorian border), with most records from south-east of Braidwood to Wisemans Ferry; with a lot of records between Sydney and Appin, as well as, the Southern Highlands and Ulladulla-Nerriga area.

It is typically found in heath, as well as dry sclerophyll woodland and forest growing on sandy soils and sandstone.

Philotheca spp. have simple and alternate leaves (a trait it shares with its relative, Citrus), often with conspicuous oil glands and odorous.
In this species, leaves are narrow-oblong to elliptic, tubular (terete) to 25 mm long and 5 mm wide with the lower surface with glandular warts.

Philotheca spp. produce flowers in leaf axils or at the terminals, often reduced to single flowers with leaves in-between or in cymose or racemose groups. Flowers have 5 sepals (rarely 4) and 5 petals (rarely 4).

In this species, flowers are borne singly in leaf axils, up to 20 mm wide, occurring in spring, mainly towards the ends of branches with petals white to pink and with 2 pairs of tiny bracteoles at the base.

The fruit of Philotheca is a schizocarp-capsule – which splits into equal segments on maturity which each segment called a coccus (plural cocci). In this species, the fruit is about 7 mm long with a beak about 3 mm long.

In the garden

Not much is known about the cultivation of this species and it is not widely grown.

It may be difficult to cultivate or may need more application. It may be available for cultivation in the future.

Check with local native nurseries.

It occurs naturally on sandy to sandstone soils.

Philothecas can be challenging to grow but often with more success than the related Boronias. They are very attractive in flower and well worth the effort.

In a garden situation it grows best in a well-drained soils in full sun. They can succumb quickly to poor drainage. Place in a well-drained sandy soil, in semi-shade to full sun, preferably on a slope. Lightly prune after flowering to maintain compact shape. Flowers attract bees and butterflies.

Very useful in rockeries and sloping gardens.


In common with most members of the Rutaceae, propagation from seed is difficult. Cuttings usually strike readily from current season’s growth but some species can be slow to form roots.

Other information

There are two subspecies are accepted by the Australian Plant Census:

  • subsp. latifolia has glandular-warty stems and leaves about 12 mm long and 3 mm wide with are oblong to narrow-ovate, occurring between Nerriga and Nowra.
  • subsp. scabra has smooth stems and cylindrical leaves, occurring from Nowra to Sydney.

Philotheca is a genus of about 50 species, all are endemic to Australia with species in every state except the Northern Territory. NSW currently has 16 species. Many plants formerly in Eriostemon are now in this genus.

See this link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philotheca#cite_note-11 for a list of Philotheca species accepted by the Australian Plant Census as at April 2019.

Philotheca is a genus of about fifty species, all are endemic to Australia with species in every state except the Northern Territory.

Most Philotheca plants would die in a fire and regenerate from the seedbank.

Philotheca was first described by Edward Rudge in 1812. As there are some reported variations on the meaning – the Latin of Rudge in his publication was transcribed for these profiles as follows:

all as in Eriostemone, but the habit is very different from that of the ericoid branches; The terminal flowers and the filaments below, enlarged into the naked box, whence the name.

It has been reported that Psilos (ψιλός) refers to “naked” or “bare” in Ancient Greek. Philos (φίλος) in Greek tends to mean “friend”. Philia (φιλία) in Ancient Greek means “highest form of love”

The suffix -theca refers to “box” or “case” in Ancient Greek. Hence, it is thought the name means “naked-box” or “loving-box” referring to the condition of the 10 (or 8) stamens that are fused at the base and forming a box-like structure. (Note: this is not the case in all species with some having free stamens).

scabra – Latin referring to “scabrous” or “rough” referring to the rough texture of stems and leaves.

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

NSW Flora Online (PlantNET) – Philotheca scabra profile page

Wikipedia – Philotheca scabra profile page

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