BLOOMING FROM LATE SPRING TO SUMMER, VISITING BIRDS, BEES AND BUTTERFLIES WILL LOVE THIS LILLI PILLI’S POWDER-PUFF FLOWERS AS MUCH AS GARDENERS DO
One of the most popular and well-known hedging plants grown in Gold Coast gardens belongs to the group of plants known as lilli pillies.
Most lilli pillies grow into trees, often quite sizeable and in some cases giants of the rainforest. Over the past decade or so plant breeders have developed dozens of cultivars, including tall narrow specimens, perfect where space is limited, and dense bushy shrubs that tolerate regular and even heavy pruning to provide a formal hedge or simply to maintain at a moderate size.
The genus name for lilli pillies is syzygium (siz-idg-eum). The name is derived from the Greek word syzgos, which means yoking, relating to a small lid or cap that joins the petals together on some of the almost 50 species that are native to Australia.
Locally there are eight different syzygium species, two of which are endangered in their natural habitat.
All lilli pillies develop fleshy fruits after flowering, often edible, some delicious.
Syzygium luehmannii, known as riberry, was an important highly nutritious fruit of Australian Aboriginals, and was one of the first native fruits recognised by early colonists and used in jams, sauces and jellies.
Another claim to fame for S.luehmannii, the riberry (or small leaf lilli pilli) is its hybridisation or “crossing” with the genetically different syzygium wilsonii, the red powder puff lilli pilli.
The result is a small to mid-sized shrub which, if left without any pruning, may become a small semi-weeping tree around 4m tall.
The resulting hybrid is called syzygium Cascade. It has flushes of bright pink soft new growth throughout the growing season in rich contrast to its more mature light green foliage.
It’s possible to hedge Cascade, but it’s so lovely in its natural form that a light pruning after flowering might be preferred and is all that’s needed.
Fruits are also pink, and are edible. Flowers will attract nectar-eating birds, while the fruit will bring seed and soft fruit eating birds. Native and honey bees are attracted to the nectar, as are butterflies.
Syzygium Cascade grows in full sun to part shade and although it requires adequate moisture it is relatively tough through the dry season.
It’s known as a drain friendly plant and is a useful wind break.
It’s also resistant to the small pimple-like distortions sometimes seen on other lilli pillies, caused by the nymph stage of a tiny psyllid insect, which becomes embedded like scales into the underside of foliage.
This is a great plant for gardeners without space for one of the tall growing local lilli pillies, or who don’t want a formal hedge.
It will flower from late spring through summer, bring wildlife and reward with clusters of beautiful pink round powder-puff flowers up to 8cm diameter.
If you need evidence of this great looking plant, check out the tall specimens in the display gardens at the Gold Coast Regional Botanic Gardens where they are in flower now.
Kate Heffernan is a horticulturalist, educator and honorary life member of Friends of the Gold Coast Regional Botanic Gardens. You can listen to her radio show Garden Talkback on ABC 91.7FM every Saturday from 9am. She has designed a tour for garden lovers in September 2018, including a cruise along the vine-clad rivers of Portugal and the South of France, stopping at historic villages and visiting gardens. Details at kateheffernan.com.au