Pseuderanthemum variabile

Pastel Flower

Family: Acanthaceae

A creeping herbaceous perennial to 30 cm tall, usually growing in colonies of many stems, sometimes connected below ground by rhizomes. 

It is common on the east coast of Australia, north of Bega, growing mainly in the New South Wales central and north coast areas, with some disjunct records on the North Western Slopes and Western Plains. It extends up into Queensland, through the coastal and central areas, up to Papua New Guinea and into the Northern Territory.

Its natural habitat is typically the floor of rainforest or wet eucalyptus forest where it receives dappled shade. However it is hardy in drier situations and grows much slower and not as tall. It can be found in drier sclerophyll woodlands; on a range of soils from enriched sands to shales and volcanics. 

Pseuderanthemum spp. have simple and opposite leaves, often descussate. In this species, they are dark to light green, sometimes with grey or red-purple colouring, to about 7 cm long by up to 4 cm wide, ovate to shortly-lanceolate in shape, with the upper surface having tubercule-based hairs (cystoliths).

Pseuderanthemum spp. have 5-petaled flowers and a 5-lobed calyx, with flowers produced in a variety of arrangements. In this species, the flowers are mauve, lilac, purple to white or blue-ish, about 15 to 20 mm mm across, with petals appearring as 2 similar upper petals, 2 similar lateral petals and a larger single petal which often has darker spots. Flowers are produced in a terminal raceme up to 5 cm long, from November and May. Occasionally the flowers do not open and are self-fertilising.

The fruit is a capsule, sometimes hairy to about 1 cm long.

In the garden

A feature or stand-alone plant or gap filler. Useful for gardens with sandstone outcrops. insect attracting and colour diversity. It can be cut back to ground level if required. Give some water in dry periods.

It can be grown in pots and is a very useful groundcover in shady areas. Plant in semi-shade for best results. It will also grow in heavy shade. 

There seems to be a race of this species that happily invades orchid-nurseries and other nursery areas – so watch for this. 

It is the food plant for caterpillars of a number of butterflies in the family Nymphalidae.


Self-sows freely from large seed capsules, so new plants can be dug up or divide rhizomes or take stem cuttings.

It has been reported by some orchid growers that it is an awful orchid weed, infesting pots and hard to eradicate. However, it is thought that this is a specific race of the species which has adapted to orchid nurseries.

Other information

Pseuderanthemum is a genus of about 40 to 50 species, growing mainly in the tropics. Australia has about 3 endemic species.

P. variabile is the only species in NSW.

Likely regenerates from seed after fire but may be able to reshoot from rhizomes. 

Pseuderanthemum – from Greek: pseudes (ψευδες) meaning lies or false and –Eranthemum – a similar genus of plants in the same family = False Eranthemum. This species was first known as Eranthemum variabile but was later re-classified.

variabile – Latin for “variable” or “changeable” – likely referring to the variations in leaf and flower colour. 

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

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

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

Growing Illawarra Natives – Pseuderanthemum variabile profile page https://finder.growingillawarranatives.org/plants/plant/416

Brisbane Rainforest Action and Information Network – Pseuderanthemum variabile profile page http://www.brisrain.org.au/01_cms/details.asp?ID=706 

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