Perhaps one of the more iconic Australian native plants, at least on the Australia’s East Coast, is the NSW Christmas Bush, Ceratopetalum gummiferum. Few things are more synonymous with the festive season than sprays of the bright red foliage of this wonderful plant. Yes, it is the foliage of the plant that provides the red colour. After the white or cream flowers begin to fall away around the end of October, it’s the calyx or leaves at the base of each flower that turn a bright red. I dare say Europeans have been adorning the Christmas Day table with this plant since around December 1788.
The plant occurs naturally all along the coastal strip of NSW, thriving in sandy, impoverished soils and coping with whatever the summer seasons bring. The ‘type specimen’, as it is known in botany, usually grows to around 5-6 m high and is really a small tree although it is very amenable to heavy pruning. In 1969, a colony of much smaller growing plants was found at Evans Head, just south of the Queensland border. A limited number of plants was propagated from the material collected on that occasion but it wasn’t until 2001 that this dwarf form, growing to around 1.5m was registered with the Australian Cultivar Registration Authority and given the name ‘Johanna’s Christmas.’
Only since 2012 has it been commercially available and even now it’s in very limited supply. This is because it must be propagated by cutting to preserve the particular clonal properties which determine the dwarfing characteristics and there isn’t a great deal of cutting material available from which to produce new plants. Nevertheless, a good number of tube stock has been supplied to a wholesale nursery which should see some plants in retail outlets in the lead-up to Christmas this year.
More information in this regard, including current availability can be found at www.johannaschristmas.com.au
Brian Roach spent his professional life as a criminal law lawyer with the NSW Government, then as Crown Prosecutor/Barrister before retiring. In his retirement, Brian runs a cottage industry native plant nursery from his home in Westleigh, as well as being a guest speaker at garden clubs on over 130 occasions. He has also been a member of the Australian Plants Society for 45 years.