Plant Profiles Coast Beard Heath

The Leucopogon (beard heath) is a large genus of around 230 species. Australia is home to around 200 of these evergreen shrubs and small trees, with the rest occurring in New Zealand, the Malay Archipelago and various Pacific Islands. Characteristics of this genus [which is part of the heath (Ericaceae) family] include small, narrow leaves and tiny tubular or bell-shaped flowers. The blooms may be white, cream or pink. Often the petals are recurved and may have densely furred inner faces. Attractive orange or red drupes appear after the flowering season.

Some of the Leucopogons have the common name of ‘heath’. One of these is Leucopogon amplexicaulis which is known as the heart-shaped beard heath. It is a low scrambling shrub, native to the New South Wales area of Sydney where it is restricted to moist rock ledges along the coast. The heart-shaped leaves grow to about 25mm long. The white flowers appear in leaf axils, in clusters of up to ten blooms. The flowering season is summer. Small red-orange fruits follow flowering.

Another Leucopogon named for the shape of the leaves is L.lanceolatus or lance-leafed beard heath. This is a bushy shrub endemic to south-eastern Australia including Tasmania. The narrow, lance-shaped leaves grow to 5cm long. White flowers appear in small spikes in leaf axils and at the tips of the branches. The flowering period is spring and red berries follow the flowers.

A tall species of this genus which is endemic to Western Australia is L.verticillatus, commonly known as the tassel shrub. This species is found in the karri and jarrah forests of WA’s south-west. It has the largest leaves of any of the Leucopogons. They may be 10cm long and are arranged in what appear to be whorls but which are not true whorls. The branches are erect in form and the dull pink to deep red flowers hang in long tassel-like spikes. The drupes are small and red.

Leucopogon setiger is known as whitebeard and occurs on the sandstone ranges around Sydney. It is an attractive shrub with a bushy rounded shape. The leaves are narrow and taper to a needle point. The pure white flowers are bell-shaped and semi-pendant, with rolled back furry petals.

Some Leucopogons are susceptible to frost but most are easily cultivated if grown in moist, well-drained soil. The addition of humus to the soil is strongly recommended. They are adaptable as far as light conditions go, thriving under situations ranging from full sun to quite heavy shade. They can become somewhat straggly and will benefit from a light trimming.