Botany

Overview of the Australian Plant Genus Rhodanthe



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The genus Rhodanthe belongs in the daisy (Asteraceae) family. The nomenclature was revised in the 1990s and this genus is now considered exclusively Australian. Plants now in this genus were once classified as ‘Helichrysum’ or ‘Helipterum’. It has the common names of everlasting and strawflower. The 40 odd species include annuals, perennials and small shrubs. The leaves are simple and narrow varying in colour from silvery-grey to light green. They are rather sprawling plants but are popular for their long-lasting display of flowers which have white to pink dry papery bracts enclosing yellow flower heads. Some are adapted to desert regions and have seeds that may remain dormant for many years, only bursting into life when it rains.

Rhodanthe albicans (formerly Helipterum albicans) is endemic to Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia. It is an annual or perennial with yellow to white papery flowers of around 3cm diameter. The flowers appear mainly from November to February. It has a wide distribution through eastern Australia. It likes a sunny position and is frost-hardy. New plants can be propagated from seed or cuttings.

Rhodanthe humboldtiana (previously Helipterum humboldtianum) is native to Western Australia. The leaves have wavy edges and clusters of yellow, everlasting flowers are produced mainly from September to January. This annual is grown to a limited extent in Australia and overseas.

Another Rhodanthe endemic to Western Australia is Rhodanthe roseum which is actually a subspecies of R.chlorocephala. Other synonyms for the species are Helipterum roseum, Acroclinium roseum and everlasting. It is an annual from south-western Australia. It is usually erect or rounded in form and has narrow grey-green leaves. The flower heads are conspicuous with soft yellow discs surrounded by white to pink papery bracts. The subspecies R.c.rosea has bright pink flowers. This species and its subspecies are widely grown for the cut flower trade. The flowers also dry very well. This species will often self-seed in the garden.

Rhodanthe anthemoides or chamomile sunray is a wiry-stemmed evergreen perennial from south-eastern Australia. It has narrow, pointed grey-green leaves. Clusters of papery white flowers are produced in spring and summer. There are several cultivars of this species. ‘Paper Baby’ has a compact habit with red buds opening to white-bracted flowers. ‘Paper Star’ flowers very prolifically and has a compact form. It makes a superb rockery plant.

The Swan River everlasting (Rhodanthe manglesii) is an annual from Western Australia. It has erect stems with grey-green to blue-green leaves which are pointed and a narrow oval to heart-shaped. It displays many white- to pink-bracted flower heads in spring or after rain.

Most species are tough and make good choices for dry banks or rockeries. Like the genus Helichrysum with whom they share a common name of everlasting, they like light, gritty, very well-draining soil and full sun. They are tolerant of poor soil.

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