Armidale gardening: The hardy eremophila

Eremophila denticulata: A medium shrub with tubular flowers that are pink then age to red.
Eremophila denticulata: A medium shrub with tubular flowers that are pink then age to red.

The eremophilas are a large group of native plants that are gaining in horticultural popularity. In the last few years many varieties have appeared in nurseries.

The eremophilas are known as emu bushes and usually inhabit the inland areas of the continent. This habitat is dry, hot during the day and at night may be bitterly cold. The fact that emu bushes cope with this range of climatic conditions means they are able to survive and thrive in many horticultural situations, including our own.

Not only does their hardiness make them ideal for gardens, but they are also noted for their colourful, nectar-rich flowers that are usually carried for long periods. The blooms are tubular and attract honeyeaters to their store of nectar.

Eremophilas, once established, are very hardy with few problems. The only maintenance required is the occasional tip pruning to keep plants in top condition and blooming bounteously.

Emu bushes are some of the easiest native plants to propagate from cuttings. So building up your eremophila numbers is relatively easy.

Eremophilas means desert loving and describes their natural habitat exactly. There are about 200 species with new species being discovered and named regularly.

A useful and colourful book is Australia’s Eremophilas: Changing Gardens for a Changing Climate. Thumbing through this book and looking at the photographs shows the beauty and variety of this group of Australian plants.

This seems to be a good time to describe some species that are surviving and thriving in local gardens.

Eremophila denticulata is a medium shrub with dark green, shiny leaves with small teeth around the margins. Initially the tubular flowers are pink then age to red. This is a characteristic on many emu bushes that will carry blooms of various colours. The lengthy flowering period extends from early spring to early autumn with sporadic flowering at other times.

Eremophila decipiens is a low, compact, much-branched shrub. The narrow leaves have a pointed apex and sticky to the touch. The flowers are 3cm long, tubular and bright red. The flowering period extends from August to January. This hardy shrub would be ideal for the border around a garden bed.

Eremophila maculata “aurea” is a small shrub with bright green, succulent leaves. They are carried on short stalks. The flowers are the crowning glory of this hardy cultivar. They are the typical tubular shape and golden yellow. The main flowering period is in winter when flowers are scarce in the garden. An “aurea” in full flower is one of the most stunning shrubs in the garden. If you only have room for one emu bush then this is the one to grow.

Eremophila subfloccosa is a “double barrelled” plant. This low, spreading shrub has beautiful grey-white foliage that has a felt-like feel. Coupled with the foliage are lime-green to yellow-green flowers. They appear from late spring to mid-summer. Foliage and flowers are attractive features.

This is a miniscule number of the eremophilas that are suitable for local gardens.