Versatile Australian bottlebrush tree livens up the landscape in arid areas

A native of Australia where more than 20 species are found, the bottlebrush tree is now finding wider use in arid parts of the United States. The tree (Callistemon lanceolatus), having long, swaying branches of narrow leaves, presents a landscape effect similar to that of the weeping willow. Its name, ``bottlebrush'' tree, comes from its showy flower clusters, which resemble the brushes used to clean test tubes and bottles.

Showy bottlebrush (C. speciosus) and Flame bottlebrush (C. splendens) are among the most beautiful species, the latter emitting a lemon perfume when its leaves are crushed. The plants are especially suited for home gardens and highway plantings. Although bottlebrushes are usually small trees or large shrubs, they may easily reach 15 to 20 feet in height.

The special attraction of the tree is threefold: bright green, lance-shaped leaves; new growth showing a delicate rose color; and deep red ``brushes'' (the cylindrical spikes) tipped with gold from May until late summer.

Propagation is by seed and cuttings. Capsules gathered in summer will dry if placed in open boxes for about a month. Planted in early spring, the seeds are lightly covered in a fine mixture of sand, loam, and peat moss.

However, propagation by cuttings is a more satisfactory method because they will bloom earlier than the seedlings. A cutting should be mature wood the size of a pencil. Except for heavy clay, almost any soil, if kept sufficiently moist, will serve to sprout the cutting.

Most cuttings of flowering trees produce roots more quickly if grown in a mixture of perlite and coarse sand. The container should be small and its bottom cut out when the cutting is ready for transplanting. This handling prevents disturbance of the roots.

Protection from direct sun for two or three weeks is required.

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