Plant Profiles Australian Native Pimelea

The pimelea or rice flower genus consists of around 110 species. These evergreen shrubs form part of the daphne family (Thymelaeaceae). The vast majority of the species (about 90) are endemic to Australia, and the rest to New Zealand.  The bark of the pimelea is very tough, so strong that it can be used as twine. The leaves are simple in shape and smooth.  The flowers do not have petals but have four sepals fused into a narrow tube with spreading lobes. Flowers are generally white or pink, very occasionally white or purple. The fruits are small and may be dry or fleshy and contain one seed. Most of the pimeleas attract butterflies.

Pimelea ferruginea (rosy rice flower) has heads of pale to deep pink flowers in spring. It also flowers sporadically at other times. It is commonly grown and is native to the extreme south-west of Western Australia. The oval leaves are a shiny green and pointed. The cultivar ‘Bonne Petite’ flowers prolifically, producing clusters of pink flowers.

Pimelea ligustrina is aptly called the ‘tall rice flower’. It grows to 3 metres and is found from coastal forests to subalpine regions of south-eastern Australia. It has smooth, light green leaves and white flowers which appear in large nodding heads at the branch tips. The bracts are silky-edged and green to red-brown.

Pimelea nivea has the common name of white cotton bush. It is endemic to Tasmania and most of the plant is covered with white hairs. Only the upper surfaces of the small, glossy, dark green leaves are free of the hairs. The white (sometimes pink) flowers appear as large flower heads in summer.

At the other side of the continent, Pimelea physodes or Qualup bell is arguably the most spectacular member of the genus. The flower heads are large and pendant. It is particularly suited as a cut flower and forms a small, erect shrub to 1 metre high. The small flowers are enclosed in leafy bracts which add greatly to the striking appearance of the bush. It is endemic to the south coast of Western Australia round the Hopetoun-Ravensthorpe area. It has been difficult to grow in the eastern states due to the humid summers but greater success is being achieved with plants now being grafted onto hardier rootstock.

Pimeleas prefer an acidic soil which can be enriched with organic material. They like a well-drained position in full sun or partial shade. They are suitable for seaside gardens but do not like heavy frosts. They are not long-living plants as a rule.