Podolobium ilicifolium

Prickly Shaggy-pea, Native Holly

Family: Fabaceae subfamily Faboideae

An erect shrub to 3 metres tall, spreading to 1 metre.

It has a common and widespread occurrence in NSW, growing along most of the NSW coastal subdivisions, as well as the eastern parts of the tablelands, as well as into the Hunter Valley to around Scone and Wingen. It grows mostly along the coast into Queensland to about Rockhampton and is confined to the north-eastern parts of Victoria.

It is found usually in dry sclerophyll woodlands and forests on both sandy and heavier soils, sometimes rocky areas. On the tablelands, it is very often seen in ridge-top stringybark and scribbly gum woodlands on rocky substrates.

Podolobium is a member of the “pea” family. This generally means that leaves are alternate with stipules at the base of the petioles. Podolobium spp. have simple and alternate, or, opposite leaves (or almost opposite), with stipules present which are usually stiff and spreading. Leaves can entire or lobed, usually with a pungent point and with conspicuous reticulation on the upper surface, with the lower surface usually hairy.

In this species, the leaves are opposite (or almost so), to 10 cm long and 3 cm wide with an overall ovate to narrow-ovate outline but with strong lobing; each lobe ending in a pungent point (slightly resembling Holly leaves); dark green to blue-green in colour; foliage somewhat prickly.

Flowers are, of course, pea-shaped (a term sometimes used is papilionate), with 5 petals in a fixed arrangement; the main back petal is called the “standard”, two lateral petals called “wings” and two fused petals at the bottom called the “keel” (in which the anthers and one carpel tend to be hidden).

In Podolobium, flowers are a mixture of red and yellow (or orange/yellow) and are usually arranged singularly or in racemes, clusters or corymbs. The upper two of five sepal lobes are fused higher up, compared to the other 3. There are bracetoles and bracts produced on the flowers but these fall early as flowers develop. The bracts are tri-lobed which is a distinguishing feature for this genus.

In this species, the inflorescences are borne in leaf axils or at the end of branches. The standard petal is yellow or yellowish-orange with a reddish centre and is over 1 cm across. The wings are yellowish, and the keel is red; occurring from spring to early summer.

The fruit of all peas is a pod. In this species, they are approximately 10 mm long and 3 mm in diameter, ovoid to oblong and hairy and with numerous warty ridges.

In the garden

This plant is not overly common in cultivation and knowledge is limited. It is a very eye-catching species when in full flower in woodland and grows in a range of habitats. Plants can possibly die quickly when placed in a garden but are worth a try. Check with local native nurseries for availability. It is known to be propagated successfully by some nurseries.

In a garden situation, they grow best in a well-drained sunny position.

Seeds are also available commercially.


Propagation is easy from seed following pre-treatment to break the physical dormancy provided by the impervious seed coat. Pre-treatment can be carried out by abrasion or by the use of boiling water

The seed retains viability for many years.

Cuttings strike well using firm, current season’s growth.

Other information

All Podolobium species are endemic to Australia. They were previously classified in Oxylobium and botanical revision continues.

They can be found in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. There are six species accepted by the Australian Plant Census as at October 2020. NSW currently has 3 species.

Podolobium spp. will likely die form fire and regenerate from seed. Suckering from basal parts may be possible.

Podolobium – from Ancient Greek podos (ποδός) meaning “foot” or ”leg” and lobos (λοβός) meaning “a pod” (in this case) – referring to the manner in which the pod grows on a stalk within the calyx.

ilicifolium – Latin – referring to the genus Ilex – the Holly genus and –folium meaning “leaves” – capturing the holly-like foliage of the species.

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

NSW Flora online (PlantNET) – Podolobium ilicifolium profile page:

Wikipedia – Podolobium ilicifolium profile page:

By Jeff Howes. Editing and additional text by Dan Clarke