Botany

An Overview of the Australian Plant Genus Philotheca



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The Philotheca genus also has the common names of wax plant, or waxflower. It is a temperate Australian genus of some 45 species. At one time, the genus was restricted to two or three species. However many species once thought to be more closely allied to the Eriostemon genus have since been shifted to Philotheca.

Philotheca specimens have simple leaves which appear alternately on the stems. Conspicuous oil cavities make the leaf surface appear warty or dotted. The blossoms are 5-petalled and shaped like stars. They may be white, pink or a blue-mauve and are often profuse and showy. The fruits which follow are small capsules.

Philotheca buxifolia (previously Eriostemon buxifolius) is also known as the box-leaved waxflower, wax plant or waxflower. It grows to 1 metre with a slightly wider spread. It is a neat, rounded shrub from the central coast of New South Wales. The leathery leaves are heart-shaped to ovate. The buds are pink but open to small white or pink star-like flowers. These appear clustered toward the ends of the branches. Flowering is in spring. This species attracts butterflies and is suited to coastal locations.

Philotheca myoporoides (previously Eriostemon myoporoides) is a well-known species with the common names of Australian daphne, long-leafed waxflower and native daphne. This is a rounded evergreen shrub native to Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. The narrow leaves are a dark greyish-green and have a strong fragrance when crushed. The masses of flowers are star-shaped and waxy or rosy white with orange anthers. The flowers appear in the leaf axils in spring. The cultivar ‘Profusion’ has shorter, thicker leaves and a more compact habit. It also flowers more profusely – if that is possible!

Philotheca difformis (previously Eriostemon difformis), the small-leafed waxflower or wax plant, grows to 1.5 metres with a similar spread. It is a rounded shrub endemic to the semi-arid inland areas of south-eastern Australia. It has fine twigs and short, oblong leaves with wavy edges. It produces small, white, star-shaped flowers through much of the year.

The Bendigo waxflower, Philotheca verrucosa (previously Eriostemon verrucosa) is an open shrub from southern Australia. It has small, heart-shaped leaves. The buds are pink but open to white, star-shaped flowers in spring. It is hardy in most soils but cannot cope with waterlogged conditions.

Not all species are easily grown. Philotheca myoporoides is the most widely known as a garden specimen. They need a gritty soil with really good drainage and prefer an open situation with good air movement. They can be propagated from cuttings which have been allowed to harden a little but the seed is very difficult to germinate.

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