Plant Profile - Bottlebrush, Callistemon Citrinus

I don't have a favorite tree, or any other plant for that matter.  I'm sure you'll understand, since there are just so many great trees vying for my affections with their unique foliage, branching structures and other enticements... how could anyone honestly pick a favorite?  One tree that does come pretty close to perfection is callistemon citrinus. Its a winner in all respects!

In fact, I love lemon bottlebrushes so much that I've planted three, (count em') three in my small garden in different situations, not to mention my frost-tender callistemon viminalis, or weeping bottlebrush.  Bottlebrushes are primarily grown for their showstopping scarlet blooms, but I'm really a fan of the evergreen and frost tolerant foliage (in zones 8b and up). When all my tropicals turn to blackened heaps of slime in winter, I can count on my bottlebrushes to keep plugging along and keep the landscape beautiful.

Lemon bottlebrush can be grown as a small tree or a shrub, as a standard or with multiple trunks.  You can shear it and sculpt it with sterile clippers, limb it up to reveal the beautiful framework of the trunk, or just let it grow naturally.  When choosing companion plants, I prefer the lime green foliage of 'Marguerite' sweet potato vine or xanthosoma 'lime zinger'.  When grown as a shrub, bottlebrush's fine and glaucous foliage makes the perfect backdrop for large leaved plants like gingers, alocasias and cannas. Why not plant a groundcover of callistemon viminalis 'little john' in the foreground too?  This dwarf bottlebrush is adorable... no other way to put it.

Callistemon 'Little John'
I've read differing reports as to 'lemon bottlebrush's' ability to tolerate wet soil, but in my experience, let me tell you not to underestimate them.  A tree in my backyard handled last summer's flooding with ease!  Oh, and did I mention that this same tree is growing in almost full shade?  Sure, it flowers less (still flowers though!) and has a looser and more relaxed form, but I rather like its willowy appeal.

Bottlebrush is more likely to be planted in a sunny and well drained spot, but it excels there too, even in drought.  Once its established, there's just no stopping it.  I'm curious as to why I never see them as street trees here in Jacksonville, since they remain evergreen to at least twenty degrees, can handle some major drought, stay at a manageable size, and just happen to have stunning floral displays too.

Believe it or not, there are even more reasons to love the bottlebrush!  Chief among them would be its sculptural and slightly contorted trunk, that's wrapped in deeply fissured grayish brown bark. One of the reasons I decided to make bottlebrushes a repeating element in the Rainforest Garden was their rough bark, since it would be a great support to grow epiphytes like bromeliads and ferns.  I planted one at an 45 degree angle so the mosses and epiphytes would eventually be enticed to spread up the trunk.  I picture this tree being a focal point when its multiple trunks are festooned with bromeliads and golden polypody fern.

 Before opening
 After opening!

Lastly, there are the great flowers, or rather clusters of flowers.  What you see is actually a bunch of stamens shooting out radially from the inflorescence, and hummingbirds just can't get enough.  I know there are plenty of other reasons to grow this tree, but let's just face it.  Those vivid and fuzzy flowers would make this tree worth growing even without its other assets... even if it was the most finicky plant on earth, which it isn't, by the way.


  1. Pretty...but I always tend to want to blame them for my allergies when they are in bloom! LOL...easy target!
    My fav tree is a scrub pine. Gorgeous!

  2. This is a favorite of mine, I have one. I have seen some dwarf shrub like ones recently in Orlando do they remain like that?

    1. The 'Little John' variety stays between 2' and 3' here in California (Central Coast).

  3. I love your idea of using them as support for the epiphytes.

  4. Oh, those are cool. I remember those from my childhood, but I had no idea what they were. Nice post.

  5. This Caribbean authority disagrees, this Australian native may be of some interest, however any Plumeria, Guiacum officinale or Calliandra will kick any Callistemon butt in any
    league, Florida and else.

  6. I love my bottlebrush tree, too, and I look forward to its blooms each year. Mine is planted in clay that stays wet...sometimes flooded for a month or two...and it does well. You can't beat that.

  7. Julie:
    Hey, scrub pines are more likely to give you allergies than bottlebrushes! I do love those scrub pines though, especially in Ocala National Forest.

    Island Gal:
    That "little John" one stays small, and containerizing them also stunts their growth.

  8. Tufa Girl:
    Thanks for saying so! Sometimes these ideas start to seem a little crazy, so its nice to hear I'm not the only one. :)

  9. CatsandCatts
    Thanks! I would imagine they'd be pretty cool plants in childhood too, especially considering how soft and fuzzy they are!

  10. Antigonum:
    All of those plants are awesome too, but not really hardy where I live. Calliandra can grow here but dies back to the ground so its not really much of a tree.

  11. Susan:
    Mine stayed pretty wet too, and took the drought this year in stride! Its about as tough as the natives in the woods behind my yard. I loved your orchid post by the way!

  12. If you like the red, you would the pink and purple! I have them both and they are favorites of mine....


Please feel free to share your questions, ideas and suggestions!