By Emina Darakjy
The bottle brush is native to Eastern Australia and belongs to the Myrtaceae family.
The name callistemon is derived from the Greek word meaning “Beautiful stamen,” and its common name – bottle brush – is attributed to the its flowers that resemble bottle cleaners.
This bottle brush is a small size evergreen tree with a rounded canopy. It grows to a maximum height of 25 feet with an equal spread making it a good choice for planting underneath powerlines.
The leaves are narrow light green, simple, alternate and emit a lemon scent when crushed.
In the spring to early summer and scattered throughout the year, the tree is covered with an explosion of clusters of brush-like bright red flowers with a nectar that attracts all kinds of birds and bees.
The fruit comes in the form of dark woody capsules that follow the flowers and tend to stay on the tree for a long time. These capsules contain small seeds that are adored by wildlife.
The bottle brush is a tough tree with no known pests or diseases at the present. It tolerates many soil conditions but does better in a well-drained soil. It prefers a sunny location but can take some partial shade. This is a simple tree to grow that only requires an occasional light pruning when needed.
There are many species and cultivars in the bottle brush family. The two most commonly planted ones in our area, are the Callistemon viminalis which has is very distinctive look due to its weeping form and the Callistemon citrinus described in this article.
The bark of the bottle brush is light-gray, furrowed and tends to peel off.
This is a tree that is well suited for planting in a parkway and medians. Damage to sidewalks from its roots is minimal. This tree is also deer resistant if this is a concern in your area.
Due to its stunning display of vivid red flowers that last for a very long period of time, the Callistemon citrinus is a very popular tree to plant as a single trunk or as a shrub.
Some people may object to the litter caused by its flowers when they drop. I view this as a sign of a “living tree” doing what it is supposed to do.
Emina Darakjy is a past president of Pasadena Beautiful and is its present Tree Program Chair. Darakjy says she has always had a passion for trees and that she is involved with several other tree organizations such as California Re-Leaf, the Arbor Day Foundation, and American Forests. She is a past president of Street Tree Seminar Inc. and the present president of the California Urban Forests Council.