The Tale of the Bottlebrush Tree

When I was but a wee lass, I was uprooted from my Australian home and whisked to lands far, far away. Finding myself in Austin, Texas, and homeless to boot, I felt comforted that my foster home, Cornerstone Hardware (which no longer exists, sad to say) had adult versions of me growing in the great out-of-doors, and these big parental units were quite beautiful in the late spring and early summer. And I had a a couple of siblings with me, which made me feel quite taken care of. We were all quite young, maybe 2 feet tall at the most.

Imagine my surprise when early in April of 2000, my true mom found me and it was love at first sight!  Well, I think she actually fell in love with the parental units, and she could see the potential in me. She seemed to handle the adoption speedily enough, and apparently in the US of A, the most important paper for plant adoption is something called a “credit card.”

Though my new mom was pretty clueless about me, she knew she loved me and treated me that way. I told her I needed lots of sunshine, so she found the sunniest spot in her yard and put me in the dirt. (Well, really it was Blackland Prairie clay, but I didn’t tell her otherwise). She didn’t know she was supposed to give me food, so I managed to find enough to get by from the dark, gummy clay.   She forgot to ask about how I do or don’t like the cold (I really don’t), so she left me on the northwest sunny corner of the yard without a winter coat. I learned to be tough, even when I was iced over a couple of times.  She came by and talked to me every day, and I loved her despite her clueless, blond behavior. I know she meant well.

After 9 years, I’ve given her many years of delightful blooms. And the neighbors! Oh, my, the neighbors are always asking about me this time of year. I must be quite the rockstar around here. So this year, she told me she wanted to honor me and tell the world about how I tease her every April with thousands of little buds all over. She checks me daily, to see how the buds are doing. I love to slowly draw out her anticipation.

This is how I started this year, with just a hint of things to come.


With all the new stuff happening in the yard over the past year, my mom has been really giving me the spa treatment. I got a great haircut last fall, and then she let me have all the chocolate, I mean compost, that I wanted.

I’m pretty happy about all that.


I slowly let her start to get a peek of what to expect; very, very soon now.


I invited a few friends to join in. This year, I have lots of showing off to do.


And then? It rained! Glorious rain! Oh, it’s been so long.


See what good can happen to those who wait?


Because I’m nearly 12 feet tall now, I invite hundreds of my closest friends over for dinner constantly. They are quite the little gluttons, but I don’t mind. I have plenty of food to share.


Now everyone is happy. I love my home, and have rewarded my mom with years of this show every May, June and sometimes into July. Often, I’ll do it again in September or October. A couple of years ago, we had lovely rain all summer long, and I just kept on blooming all summer long. It was fun! And I still have a blast watching the neighbors stop their cars and gawk when I’m in full plumage. Everybody wants to know my name, which is really Callistemon
citrinus ‘Splendens
. But since ya’ll are my new friends, you can call me Babe, the Bottlebrush Tree. Drive by and check me out sometime!


23 thoughts on “The Tale of the Bottlebrush Tree

  1. You have a lovely child, er, tree, Robin. How nice that it made do with clay soil and a cold exposure and still rewards you with that display.

  2. That is glorious! I really wish I had a spot for big red-flowering plants in my yard, because this would be at the top of the list. 🙂

    P.S. Finally met my new neighbors. They rock. I am so relieved that it’s ridiculous.

  3. I understand about neighborly concerns. I’m happy that they are cool. And as you already know, I don’t have red plants either, besides this one particular one. And it is so worth it! I can’t picture a spot in your yard, though, where it would work and make sense. Unless perhaps way up top in the backyard, by the right hand corner that you are working on?

  4. I have lots of red plants, Robin – but that area might not be sunny enough and I also have a feeling that the cold in my neighborhood is colder than your cold.
    It might be plant-child abuse to buy one and force it to live here!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  5. Annie, it definitely seems that you are colder than where I am. Apparently the experts agree, since South Austin is now “officially” zone 9, while you remain zone 8b. So yes, I guess I would have to report you to the plant abuse authorities if you plant one outside in your lovely yard 🙂 .

  6. I know I had one of these trees in my yard when I moved in over four years ago. I don’t know what happened to it. It was such a jungle here, I can barely recall just where it was. In fact I can’t recall just where it was! I do love this. So beautiful. And my favorite color too!

  7. Creative post for a well deserved subject. Now I wonder if I could grow a bottlebrush tree here or would it be just too cruel After all we have the coldest spot in Austin. I have seen one growing not too far away but they are higher up and not quite so cold as here, where the cold air sinks into our spot. Is this year a good year or are they always so full of flowers. I was wondering if it was the mild winter we had.

  8. Jenny, it always blooms this much. And like I mentioned, it has had icicles hanging from the leaves a couple of times, with no problems. I didn’t realize you were such a cold spot! Annie, Transplantable Rose, is also in a much colder spot. But Jenny, I believe you can grow anything!

  9. Brenda, for some reason this comment of yours was put into my spam folder, and I just now found it. Wow, do you think you removed a huge Bottlebrush from your yard? I would think it would love your part of the country. Unlike you with your bright, fun color pallets, I normally don’t do much red in the yard, yet I really love this tree.

  10. Hi Robin. I see that I am the first South African to send you a reply. I live in Durban on the east coast where we enjoy lots of sun, warmth, humidity and summer rain – sometimes HEAT! Many of the SA climate zones are similar to the ones in Oz.
    I was just talking, via Yahoo, to my son who is at present in Cincinnatti, OHIO. I was saying that I had had most of the branches cut off my bottlebrush tree some time back. Some were broken and some were dead – just very untidy – and also, I thought that they were affecting the plants underneath it adversely. Now the stem is covered in new shoots and I was seriously thinking of shaving all the shoots off and putting them on to my compost heap via the shredder……….. I hope you haven’t fainted!!!!
    So I Googled Bottle Brush Tree to see if there was anything like turpentine or similar that would affect my plants with the compost containing bottlebrush.
    And THEN………………. I read your Tale of the Bottlebrush Tree and saw all the beautiful pictures of the flowers and promised myself to look out for the buds (of which I had never previously ever been aware)
    I hope to find your rmail address somewhere, so that I can send you pics of my Bottlebrush Tree in all her glory – sometime soon.
    Look after your beautiful, special lady.

  11. Hi, Ina, thanks for writing. That special lady is hanging in there with me, going through record drought and record high temperatures for over 30 days in a row now. You gotta love that! Perhaps you’ll decide to give yours another chance. Or not; it might be time for something different. That’s the beauty of gardening, isn’t it?

  12. Great pictures and a great story line.
    I had two of the lads and after 3 years of bliss they froze this last year.
    Needless to say I have been heartbroken.

    And yes we all have clay in Austin

  13. Hi Robin,

    Your bottlebrush is not Callistemon Rigidus but the well known (In Australia) Callistemon
    citrinus ‘Splendens’ which is sold by the nursery trade here in Australia as
    Callistemon ‘Endeavour’. I think it is also grown fairly widely in California.
    It is not quite as cold resistant as Callistemon Rigidus which is not grown much in Australia

    Kind Regards

    Byron in Melbourne, Australia.

  14. Byron, thank you so much for the ID. Which explains why I just lost it this year in our record freeze. Next time, I’ll get a different species, though this one has been a beautiful specimen for me.

  15. Robin,

    Sorry you lost such a lovely bottlebrush especially since it came all the way from Australia. You probably could pick up another in LA or San Diego if you wanted to try again.In Australia we use mulch around the base of callistemons
    to protect the roots against hot sun and dryness and cold in winter but not up against the trunk which can cause disease. Most callistemons growing in cold areas in USA that have survived freezes I think have been in warm sunny southerly positions usually against a wall or fence.Sometimes when cold cuts them down and they appear dead, you can cut them right back to close to ground in spring and (sometimes)they will regenerate. Generally the really showy varieties like the Citrinus hybrids will not survive where it snows. However in USA Callistemon ‘Clemson’ and Callistemon ‘Woodlanders’s Red’ have shown remarkable resistance to the cold. I think the former might be a Rigidus and the closest
    you will get to Splendens.Always prune the spent brushes off after flowering to stop the plant going leggy and ugly and to shape and make bushy and encourage next years blooms. Ferilize with a little Blood and Bone in Autumn and a dash of Sulphate of Potash early winter to harden up against cold and encourage leaf growth.Finally they don’t like growing under other trees.

    ‘Love those Bottlebrush’
    Regards from Down Under


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