Goshen News, Goshen, IN

January 31, 2013

The quirky and unusual bottlebrush plant


— There are numerous plants that have that familiar bottlebrush look as a flower but only one that is actually named bottlebrush plant. It gets its name from its flower head resembling that all-to-familiar kitchen gadget that we use to get into a too-small- for-the-hand opening like a thermos or a small necked vase or bottle.

To name a few of the others, there is the familiar butterfly bush with its pendulum arching flower head, the potted Chenille that has the wooly worm looking pink/orange blossoms that is normally found as a hanging basket, and another not-so-familiar, but a prized landscape shrub, called Fothergilla ‘Mount Airy’ that displays a white bottlebrush and is even more valuable for its brilliant fall display of rust/bronze/orange colored leaves.

The bottlebrush plant (Callistemon) is quite common in Phoenix and known there as red bottlebrush or Little John and is considered evergreen with dark green foliage. They prefer the desert southwest because they are nearly drought resistant and can handle the dry conditions of the desert. When placed in a landscape setting in dry climates, however, it will benefit from a drip-line placed near the base as a water source.

Flowering occurs in the spring to mid-summer but the shrub itself remains as a low growing dwarf reaching a height of only two feet or so. One might occasionally see them in a tree form growing ten to twelve feet tall but as a domesticated shrub they are normally sold in this dwarf version. The flower-heads, normally red in color but sometimes pink, yellow or even white, attract hummingbirds as well as other nectar loving insects.

They originated in the more temperate coastal regions of Australia and favored moist conditions so when planted in gardens there they thrived with regular watering practices, however, the cultivar we are familiar with in the states is a drought resistant strain and more conducive to dry climates.

While the bottlebrush plant is an interesting and unusual landscape inclusion it probably is more suited for the southern and dryer states. A more acceptable shrub for our area that has a somewhat same appearance might be the Fothergilla ‘Mt. Airy’.

At the garden center we had several requests for this plant so we did what we always did- we ordered it and made several people very happy.

That’s what made this job so interesting because I had never heard of the fothergilla plant so I got an education as well. If you are lucky enough to find one it would make a handsome inclusion to any landscape whether it is a foundation inclusion or in a garden bed.

While not the easiest to gain a firm footing, with a little TLC they should establish themselves. Height and width are in the four to five foot range and they will thrive in an acidic moist soil with full sun or partial shade.