is an unusual and colorful shrub
Mississippi Gardens Newspaper and Web Column - April 21, 2003
Bright color and unique flower form are always good reasons to summon my camera. That's what happened recently when I spotted some huge red blooms in the edge of a landscape border on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
The blooms were nearly 5 inches long and at least 2 inches wide! On closer inspection I recognized them as the unique flowers of the Bottlebrush Shrub. It seems like this plant could have been given a more elegant name than Bottlebrush shrub. However, when you see the vibrant red flowers of Callistemon, a.k.a. Bottlebrush shrub, it's obvious that the blooms look just like big, beautiful, red bottlebrushes.
Bottlebrush shrub is a plant that was once a very popular and often seen shrub in the lower part of the South. Apparently, a series of hard freezes (low teens) reduced the numbers and it has never made a popular comeback. However, the official cold hardiness rating for climate zones 8 to 10 suggests that it should fare well in the southern half of the state and parts of the Mississippi Delta.
There are few limitations to growing Bottlebrush. It prefers sun for most of the day and it's tolerant of most soils except heavy, poorly drained sites. Expect a moderate rate of growth...not too fast and not too slow. There are no significant pest problems. In addition the Bottlebrush can withstand considerable drought and salt spray.
The Bottlebrush has many good characteristics to offer Southern landscapes. The dramatic flowers are the primary reason for its popularity. Not only are they pretty and unique, but these blooms also attract hummingbirds and butterflies. By late summer the flowers have faded and are followed by bead-like fruit capsules. Stems including the fruit may be used in dried arrangements.
As a dense evergreen shrub the Bottlebrush can easily be used with a variety of foundation plants including camellias, hollies and gardenias to name a few. The linear leaves are reddish green when young, gray green with age and are distinctly aromatic.
There are a few types of Bottlebrush we should know about. Lemon Bottlebrush (Callistemon citrinus) is a small upright tree or large shrub with graceful branches that may reach 10 to 15 feet high and wide. Its nearly needle-like foliage has a lemon fragrance when bruised. Narrow-leaved Bottlebrush (C. linearis) is shrub-like at maturity (5' x 8'). Its flowers have crimson stamens and gold anthers (very showy). Stiff Bottlebrush (C. rigidus) is likely the most cold hardy and drought tolerant yet is least graceful in form. Weeping Bottlebrush, (C. viminalis), although beautiful in form and flower may not survive winters on the Gulf Coast.
Don't let its name dissuade you from using a Bottlebrush shrub in your landscape. The late spring, early summer blooms will convince once and for all that perhaps it should have been given a name more glamorous.
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These archived columns were written by Kerry Johnson<, a hobby gardener, former weekly newspaper columnist and retired Extension Horticulture Agent for 11 coastal counties in Mississippi.