Westringia fruticosa

Coastal rosemary or coastal westringia

Family: Lamiaceae

A shrub growing to potentially 3 metres tall by 3 metres across (larger in some cases).

The natural distribution is coastal NSW, mainly from Forster to Eden, with a few scattered records on the tablelands and further north. It is known to be naturalised in Queensland and Victoria. It seems the natural distribution falls just short of the Victorian border, on the NSW south coast.

It grows naturally very close to the ocean, on coastal cliffs and sand dunes as well as hills. It is often found on sandstone and sand but can be found on heavier shale-enriched soils and forms part of Coastal shrublands and heathlands as well as dune forests and woodlands.

Westringia spp. have simple and opposite or whorled leaves, usually in whorls of 3 to 5. In this species, they are neatly whorled leaves, to 20 mm long and to 5 mm wide, blue-green to grey-green in colour, hairy on both sides or with undersides much hairier than the top side.

Flowers have a shape described as labiate (applies to all Lamiaceae flowers) with 5 petals varying in their size, fused at their base, produced in leaf axils. One of the identification features which separates Westringia from Prostanthera is that the 5 calyx parts (basal whorl of the flower) are separated into 5 parts, whereas they are fused into 2 ‘lips’ in Prostanthera. Flowers are typically solitary but clustered heavily in leaf axils, appearing as leafy racemes. In this species, the flowers are white and conspicuous, to 15 mm long and wide, with hairs and ornage to purple spots in the middle of the petals, occurring all year around.

The fruit of Westringia are small mericarps or ‘nutlets’. A cluster of 4 is produced at the base of each flower after pollination. They are only 1 to 2 mm long.

In the garden

A very popular shrub that has been cultivated for some time. It has been used in gardens and also very commonly by agencies such as local councils in streetscapes and public garden-areas as well as general parks-horticulture.

This shrub is very tough and drought hardy and grows naturally on cliffs right next to the ocean in full sun. It will grow under a wide range of soils and conditions and responses to occasional watering

It is pollinated by native and introduced bees.

It is a good choice for seaside gardens and will withstand salt spray. A good feature plant or hedge. The upright growth makes it good for cut flowers.

It is generally not troubled by pests or diseases but can suffer dieback from the ground up as plants age. Plants can also die in periods of prolonged rain. Allow a planting area with plenty of year-round sun to negate these issues.

If regular pruning is not undertaken, the plant can be become very leggy and if then pruned hard will not reshoot. It can be pruned into a dense dome.

This plant can be used to very good effect as a formal hedge at the front of a property or integrated in open gardens. The odd suburban house can be seen, where this plant is used extensively in formal hedging in the front garden. Their utility extends to aspects such as housing fairy lights or christmas lights at night, which creates a very nice effect.


Westringia spp. are propagated very easily from cuttings. Seed can also be used.

Other information

The common name ‘Rosemary’ refers to the appearance of the plant only. They are closely related to the true Rosemany of the same family (*Salvia rosmarinus). There are many hybrids using this plant as a parent.

Many cultivars of this species are available such as ‘Smokie’ with silvery-grey leaves; ‘Morning Light’ a variegated form; ‘Low Horizon’, ‘Mundi’ and ‘Aussie Box’ – all of which have varying characteristics.

There are about 25 species of Westringia, endemic to Australia, occurring in all states and territories except the Northern Territory. NSW currently has 15 species. There are many cultivars.

This species is killed by fire but regenerates by seed. It might be able to reshoot from mature stem/root zones.

Westringia – named after Johan Peter Westring (1753-1833), an 18th century Swedish physician who administered to the King of Sweden and was a botanical authority on lichens.

fruticosa – Latin meaning ‘shrubby’ or ‘bushy’. (A note is made here that the species epithet is not spelt in the manner of ‘fruit’).

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

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

Some Magnetic Island Plants – Westringia fruticosa profile page https://www.somemagneticislandplants.com.au/native-rosemary

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.