Plant Profiles Dodonaea

Dodonaea is a genus in the soapberry family Sapindaceae. There are around 70 species of these evergreen shrubs and small trees. They occur mostly in Australia in a variety of climatic conditions but mainly in tropical and warm-temperate regions with some being found in arid and semi-arid areas. In the early days of settlement in Australia, the capsules of some species were substituted for hops in brewing hence the common name of hopbush.

The leaves may be pinnate or simple. They tend to become sticky as they dry. The flowers are small and somewhat insignificant. The attraction of the Dodonaeas is in the highly coloured winged capsules which appear after flowering.

From the woodlands and mallee scrubs of inland southern Western Australia comes Dodonaea adenophora. This medium sized shrub has reddish branches and small, pinnate, sticky leaves. It flowers from winter through to spring then produces 4 broad-winged capsules which are a reddish colour at maturity.

Dodonaea boroniifolia is also known as the fern-leaf hopbush or hairy hopbush. It is a multi-branched shrub which grows to 2.5 metres. It can be found from the coastlands into the drier inland slopes of eastern Australia. It is a sticky shrub with small, resinous leaves. It produces insignificant flowers from September to April. These are followed by a showy display of green, pink or red, 4 winged seed capsules which darken to deep pink or purplish red in summer. This species will tolerate extended dry periods.

Dodonaea microzyga comes from the arid areas of south central and south-western Australia. This species grows to 1.5 metres and has reddish, slightly hairy stems. The pinnate leaves are covered in very prominent glands. Each leaf consists of 7 to 11 tiny sticky leaflets. Winter flowers give way to capsules with three broad wings.

Another species widespread in the semi-arid regions of southern Australia is Dodonaea lobulate or lobed-leaf hopbush. As the name suggests, the leaves consist of small irregular lobes. It is an open wiry shrub which has an abundance of attractive, deep pink, 3 winged capsules. These are held on drooping stalks from winter through to spring. This species responds well to pruning and is an excellent hedge plant for hot dry areas.

Dodonaea pinnata grows on sandstone and is confined to a small area near Sydney, New South Wales. It is a small, hairy shrub. The spreading branches bear dainty pinnate leaves which are covered with soft, silky hairs. The capsules become a deep reddish-brown. It needs good drainage.

Most Dodonaeas are sensitive to frost. They prefer a moderately fertile soil in a position with full sun. Good drainage is an essential. Some species are drought tolerant and most can be improved in shape by regular tip pruning.