For home gardeners, the main attraction of the kunzea, a native of Australia, is the prolific honey-scented flowers. The fluffy appearance of the flowers comes from masses of protruding stamens. Generally flowering is in the spring, the kunzea attracts number of honey-eaters and insectivorous birds.
The Kunzea genus is part of the myrtle (Myrtaceae) family. There are around 35 species of these evergreen shrubs, all endemic to Australia with K.ericoides occurring in New Zealand too. The leaves of the kunzea are small, aromatic and heath-like.
Kunzea ambigua is native to the eastern states of Australia where it occurs mainly in coastal areas so it is a good choice for a seaside garden if afforded some protection. It is a dense evergreen shrub with arching branches and small, crowded, dark green, narrow to linear leaves. It has masses of small, creamy-white flowers which have a sweet scent. Its common name is tick-bush.
From the other side of the continent comes K.baxteri or scarlet kunzea. This has brilliant crimson flowers in late winter to spring. It is a multi-branched, spreading shrub which grows to around 2.5 metres with a similar spread. With some protection, this species can also be grown in coastal gardens. It can be pruned after flowering to maintain its bushy shape.
The pink kunzea or K.capitata is endemic to south-eastern Australia and has slender wiry stems. When young, the tiny, heath-like leaves are covered in hairs. It has terminal clusters of showy pink to purple flowers which appear in masses from winter to spring. It likes a moist but well-drained position.
The burgan or K.ericoides is also known as Leptospermum phylicoides. It is tall (up to 5 metres) and sometimes has a weeping habit. It comes from south-eastern Australia and New Zealand. It has narrow, dark green leaves and small, white, tea-tree-like flowers from spring to summer. Under cultivation it is fast-growing but can become a pest under cooler conditions. It is ideal for regenerating cleared land provided it is kept under control.
A much smaller species is Kunzea muelleri, commonly known as alpine kunzea or yellow kunzea. It is a low, spreading shrub growing to only about 50cm in height with a spread of perhaps 150cm. It is native to the alpine areas of south-eastern Australia. The tiny grey-green leaves are covered with silky hairs when young. In late spring and early summer, masses of small terminal clusters of pale, yellow flowers appear.
Kunzea pomifera has the common name of Muntries and is endemic to the coastal regions of southern Australia. It is a low-growing, creeping shrub with dense, crowded leaves and clusters of scented, white to cream flowers in spring. The blooms are followed by edible green berries which turn a reddish-purple as they ripen. It is a hardy specimen which is sometimes slow to become established. It prefers well-drained soil.
Kunzeas prefer a mild winter climate in full sun or part-shade. They like a well-drained position. To encourage a compact bushy growth pattern, young plants can be pruned lightly. Pruning can continue after flowering each year.