Plant Profiles Epacris Australian Heath

Epacris plants belong to the heath (Ericaceae) family. Apart from two species, the 40 odd species are all native to south-eastern Australia (including Tasmania). Several species occur at high altitudes in the Australian Alps while the rest grow in a variety of places including heathland, on moist rock ledges, cliff faces and even in peaty swamps.

The small, stiff leaves may be blunt or taper to a fine point. Flowers may be tubular or cup-shaped and vary from white to all shades of pink and red. Some flower in regular flushes throughout the year while others flower for months at a time.

Epacris impressa, also known as common heath or pink heath is the floral emblem of Victoria, although it also occurs in Tasmania, south-west New South Wales and south-east South Australia. It is a straggly shrub with tubular, drooping flowers. The flowers may be white through pink to red and are crowded along the stems. It flowers sporadically throughout the year with a flush of flowers from winter to spring.

Epacris longiflora or fuchsia heath is found on poor quality sandstone soils and coastal sands. It is native to coastal New South Wales and south-east Queensland.  It is a straggly but adaptable shrub and produces striking, colourful flowers most of year, with the main flowering period being from May to January. The narrow tubular flowers reach 3cm long and are red with white tips and highly decorative. The plant responds well to light to medium pruning. It is tolerant of frost and attractive to birds.

A dwarf form of Epacris is Epacris microphylla or coral heath which grows to 1 metre with a similar spread. It is native to the eastern states, namely Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. The shrub has erect branches. The buds are often pink then open with the flowers being mainly white. The flowering season is from April to October. In its wild state, it grows naturally in moist, sandy areas. If planted in heavy soils, it requires good drainage. It responds well to hard pruning, is tolerant of frost and attractive to birds.

Apart from a few species, the genus as a whole does not adapt well to cultivation. Even under ideal conditions, the lifespan can be quite short. They prefer filtered light. Trimming after flowering will help prolong the life of the plant and will also maintain density. Mulching will help maintain moisture round the roots. The root system consist of very fine roots so buy as small a plant as possible to give yourself the greatest chance of successfully growing these pretty plants.