Backyard Buddies
Christmas Bush

Photo: FNPW Image Library

Christmas Bush

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The Christmas Bush or Tree is a series of different plants that grow in almost every state.

Victorian Christmas Bush Prostanthera lasianthos grows in Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory, and Tasmania. It has lovely white, pink or purplish flowers which bloom in summer and provide nectar to birds. This Christmas Bush has another great plus in that it provides a protective habitat for birds to hide amongst.

South Australian and Tasmanian Christmas Bush Bursaria spinosa grows in all states except Western Australia. Not only do its small cream coloured flowers smell sweet and look like stars, but this plant is a favourite for many butterflies. Eltham or Dull Copper butterflies, Bright or Dark Copper butterflies, and Bathurst or Purple Copper butterflies all eat the leaves of this plant and lay their eggs on it. This Christmas Bush also provides a great home for many different kinds of birds to build their nests in. Tassie locals have an added present from this Christmas Bush - its fruits attract Green Rosellas.

The West Australian Christmas Tree's golden blossoms burst with brilliant colour and a sweet honey smell. The West Australian Christmas Tree is a kind of mistletoe, and like all mistletoes, it provides food for many insects, birds and mammals at times when other food is scarce. Birds like honeyeaters love mistletoes, and some butterflies lay their eggs on them so that their larvae can feed from it. Birds also love to nest in mistletoe as it provides shade and protection.

The West Australian Christmas Tree is the largest mistletoe in the world. Mistletoes are not weeds and have co-evolved with Australian plants. They are semi-parasitic plants and are uncommon in healthy bush, but are greatly appreciated by many Australian animals, birds and insects as a food source and nesting area.

The vibrant red "flowers" of the New South Wales 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.

This plant attracts insects and insect-eaters with its white flowers and pinky-red sepals. Tawny Frogmouths and many small birds such as the Fairy Wren feed almost entirely on insects, and so love plants that attract insects.

Did you know? 

The scientific name of the New South Wales Christmas Bush, Ceratopetalum gummiferum, refers to the horn shaped petals, and the fact that this plant produces large amounts of gum when the bark is cut.

Tip

For the sepals to achieve a bright red colour, your plant needs to receive a lot of sunlight. This plant likes moist conditions, and regular watering will give a good, long flowering season.

Related Factsheets:

Sheoak

Sheoaks are very unusual plants because they have separate male and female plants. Each year the males will turn a dusky red colour as they release their pollen. The female trees have small red flowers and lots of seed cones. The sheoak doesn’t have big leaves, instead they have branchlets ..

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Quote

”Birds, bugs, lizards and penguins are my favourite Backyard Buddies – I like to find, watch and learn about what they do and what I can do to help them.“

Gus – 11 year old Backyard Buddy, NSW

Photo: OEH