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Tree of the Week: Weeping Bottlebrush

April 25, 2009 |  6:00 am

The Weeping Bottlebrush -- Callistemon viminalis

Weeping bottlebrush In spring, long, bristle-like stamens cluster together in intensely red, 6-inch long, hanging, bottlebrush-shaped cylinders that look like they would make doing the dishes fun. The name of this New South Wales, Eastern Australia tree means "beautiful stamens." The tree is from the Myrtle family, and a tiny movement is underfoot to reclassify it as ‘Melaleuca’ rather than keep calling it ‘Callistemon’. The tree grows a little beyond the boundaries of Coastal Southern California and South Florida.

The weeping bottlebrush is a small, irregularly round-headed, open, fine-textured weeping evergreen tree that grows at a medium pace to 20 feet tall by 15 feet wide, but may reach 30 feet. Branches droop; twigs and trunks are gray and stringy. Pruning will give the tree structural strength but may diminish the weeping effect if done without insight. The narrow, light green leaves are 4 inches long, sometimes more. Flowers, or at least the stamens, are bundled in brilliant red clusters that put on a spectacular show; spring is the main blooming period. Fruits, consisting of tiny round woody capsules, are almost inconspicuous. The tree wants full sun and is drought-resistant but looks better with some water. It will take most soil conditions and even accept lawn watering; roots are well-behaved. The tree is not very demanding.

Selected cultivars offer larger flowers, denser foliage. ‘Little John’ is a 3-foot dwarf form. The lemon bottlebrush, C. citrinus, lacks the weeping aspects, but it is a little hardier than the weeping one. Its leaves smell lemony, and it too comes in several selected varieties.

-- Pieter Severynen

Photo: Pieter Severynen