Botanical name: Ceratopetalum gummiferum
Common name: NSW Christmas bush, festive bush
Can you believe it’s almost that time of year again with Christmas just around the corner! To get in to the festive season we are discussing Christmas Bush and in particular the NSW variety, a well-known and loved Australian native flower. Its appearance signifies the start of Christmas for many, including us florists, who like to use it in everything from festive wreaths to table arrangements.
Generally a large shrub or small tree, in cultivation it rarely grows to more than four to five metres high. The leaves are up to 70mm long and are divided into three leaflets which are finely serrated and the new growth is often pink or bronze coloured. It is widespread over the east coast of New South Wales, commonly growing in open forests on sandstone hillsides. In cultivation the plant must have a well-drained but moist position, in sun or semi shade.
Plants known in other Australian states as Christmas Bush are entirely different and have no connection with Ceratopetalum.
Popular varieties of the NSW flower include ‘Albery’s Red’, a large shrub which delivers dependably bright red flowers. ‘Red, Red, Red Christmas’ boasts bracts that turn a darker shade of red as they age. While the dwarf ‘Johanna’s Christmas’ stays up to three metres in height and width.
When does New South Wales Christmas bush bloom?
New South Wales Christmas bush flowers in spring, when it produces creamy-white flowers. Once the flowering is finished, the bracts remain on the tree developing their distinctive red colour from November and through the Christmas period, until February.
When buying Christmas bush what should you look for?
Look for bunches showing strong red/yellow colour. The ‘flowers’ should be free of marks, with the 5 calyces flexed back. Avoid dark, purplish flowers, as this is an indication that they have dried out.
How should you care for it?
Recut 2cm off the stems with sharp secateurs, and strip any leaves that would be underwater. Make sure to check the vase water often as they are thirsty drinkers.
Regular misting is highly recommended as branches take up water through the flowers and foliage as well as through the stems. With good care, Christmas bush should last for up to 3 weeks!
The vibrant red "flowers" of the NSW Christmas Bush aren't actually flowers at all. The tree sends out its real flowers in spring, and these are relatively modest—small, cream coloured, star-like with a slightly unpleasant odour. Deep pink to bright red sepals (which are little leaves that protect the flower bud) emerge and take over the plant after the flowers die.