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Beauty and the Desert

Updated on February 18, 2016

The Eremophila species was discovered i n 1810 by Robert Brown botanist,sailing with Captain Matthew Flinders

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Eremophila: The Emu Bush by Colin Jennings

The family Myoporaceae is found to be concentrated in Australia in the semi-arid and arid regions, being found in all mainland states and the Northern Territory. The largest number of species is located in Western Australia; the greatest density being in the Eremaean Botanical Province, centred on the Willuna area. It is represented by two genera, Eremophila R. Br. and Myoporum Sol. ex Forster f..

Eremophilas have been used in Aboriginal tribal life in both cultural and medicinal roles. Plant material has been used in ceremonial rites, extracts and decoctions of plant parts have been used as liniments, medicines and antiseptics. The resinous exudants from some species, being used as sealants and adhesives. (Richmond 1993).

Currently 214 species of Eremophila are recognised, some 70 or so are to be published in the near future, in addition, approximately 50 subspecies will be validated. (Chinnock pers. comm. 1997).

Approximately 75% of eremophilas are insect pollinated (entomophilous), with the remainder being bird pollinated (ornithophilous).

Eremophila species are locally dominant in many areas, often growing in impoverished sites; in general they are tolerant of harsh conditions, including drought, fire, frost, flooding and grazing - the name Poverty Bush being aptly applied. In addition to this name, they may also be referred to as Emu Bush, Fuchsia Bush, Tar or Turpentine Bush. Common names applied to particular species are many and varied, whilst Aboriginal people have names for plants which they use.

In 1968, at the suggestion of Rex Kuchel of the Adelaide Botanic Garden, Margaret Lee of SGAP (SA Region), started a group of enthusiasts under the banner "Project Eremophila", which in 1972 became the Eremophila Study Group. Its members have been instrumental in pioneering the introduction of many species into cultivation. In their September, 1973 Newsletter, number 3, they list 63 species in cultivation, many of which were very new, and described in the Newsletter as very small; too small for cuttings to be taken for members.

Plant of the Desert


Eremophila, plant of the desert

With flowers unique

Created for bird and bee

From ground cover to tree

With leaves grey or green

Of countless texture and hue

Turns the desert to Eden

Purple, pink and red tubes

Yellow, mauve and white

Nod in the desert breeze

Un-believeable glory

Gwenneth Leane©


Grafting - changing one plant into another by way of inserting buds into the base or branches of another shrub or tree.

In the early 1980s, Ray Isaacson of Geranium, South Australia, showed that grafting eremophilas onto Myoporum rootstock was possible and from his humble start this process has become the norm for establishing newly introduced species and for extending the range of species which can be grown in the more temperate areas.

Eremophilas are diverse in their habit, ranging from prostrate groundcovers, likeE.serpens and E.biserrata, to shrubs, both small and large, e.g. E.glabra, E.maculataand E.nivea to large bushes including E.psilocalyx, E.gibsonii and E.duttonii. There are several tree species, including E.mitchellii, E.longifolia and E.bignoniiflora. Flowers range in colour across the spectrum, as well as white.

A survey carried out in 1995/96 by the Eremophila Study Group revealed that there were 165 species being grown by members of the Group, some tenuously so, but others growing extremely well and now fully established as plants with horticultural merit. It is very pleasing to note that many of the species gazetted as Rare and Endangered, including E.nivea, E.racemosa, and E.denticulata are now well known as garden plants.

The Lipstick Bush, The vivid colour is attractive to birds, the bigger and flatter flowers lure the bees. The bees are attracted to the purples and mauves and

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Cultivation and Uses by Colin Jennings

The cultivation of eremophilas is best suited to the drier areas of Australia, however, they have in the main, proven to be adaptable to a range of soil types provided that drainage is very good and that light conditions are adequate; most require a full sun site in the more temperate climates. More eremophilas have been killed through overwatering than through any other cause. Some species have proven to be short lived, but these often propagate readily from cuttings. Others, once established have proven to be very reliable and long lived.

It is possible to establish plants on their own roots as well as those grafted ontoMyoporum stock in garden situations, the grafted plants appearing to be the better option in the wetter locations. Pot plant culture is also suited to many of the species of smaller growth habit.

As a rule eremophilas will grow on relatively poor soils, but they do respond to fertilisers, provided they are not applied too heavily and too often.

Whilst it is dangerous to generalise, most eremophilas are relatively pest free - aphids and mealy bug are the most commonly met. These can be controlled by predators or by applying 'soft' insecticides. Borers, particularly the larvae of the Cossinae family, do attack roots and stems of some Myoporum species and this may prove to be a problem for plants grown on Myoporum rootstock. (In June 1997, moths emerging from larvae and pupae, which I collected in Myoporum bateae roots and stems in my home garden were identified at the South Australian Museum as Archaeoses polygrapha (Low.). These larvae had been found before in Myoporum insulare and Myoporum montanum, commonly used as the rootstock for grafting eremophilas, but not identified positively.)

As a genus, Eremophila has the potential for use in the revegetation of minesites etc. (Richmond 1993). In his thesis, Dr Guy Richmond dealt largely with dormancy and germination of seed and the ecology of Eremophila in Western Australia. His studies centred on Mt Weld Station and Mt Keith Station in the Willuna area. He researched the potential for a range of local species to be used in this way. One statement in his conclusion, (P 218) reads:

''The future potential of this genus is significant, since it offers a wide range of uses in rangeland and minesite rehabilitation

What's in a Name

The name Eremophila was derived from the Greek words 'eremos' meaning desert and 'phileo' meaning love, alluding to the species adaption to arid environments.

The greatest concentration of plants are to be found in Western Australia.

Food for Thought. Bees are welcome to sip the nectar of this Eremophila hygrophana with its flatter petals and wider throat.

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Natures Paintbox. Turning the desert into a coloured wonderland. There are over 200 species of eremophila


Out where the land is stark and bare

Where rainfall’s low and rare

There grows the Eremophila bush

To paint the desert bright

With blooms of brilliant hue

So when life turns dry as dust

When plans and purposes withered

By hot north winds of circumstance,

Turn to your God for courage

To bloom regardless of the dust

Content to paint your desert bright

With love and joy and peace

GWENNETH LEANE©

Where the Wild Things Grow

The rarest plants of the Eremophila grow far out in the remote deserts of Australia.

The Eremophila plant is versatile, awesome in its ability to survive the most stringent conditions and produce flowers. The flowers are for its own self preservation but they beautify the desert turning it into an arid Eden.

The Emu. Emus gorge themselves on Eremophila seeds and only by the seeds passing through the gut of the emu do they propagate successfully.

Strutting across the saltbush plain

With lordly grace on legs like stalks

The emu searched for a meal of seeds

His drumming call danced from dune to dune

His feathers flounced in the wind

Looking like a mop; wings deformed

A brain the size of a blip

He’s grounded on earth forever.

Emu, natures plant propagator.

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Beauty and Practicality

Paste made from crushing the Eremophila bush was found to heal wounds, sores and itches probably most skin complaints.

Plant material was also used in ceremonial rites and as sealants and adhesives. In fact what ever the need was Eremophila plants supplied it. Eremophilas are not just pretty flowers, they are work horses for physical well being

THE STORY OF STURT’S DESERT PEA. This poem is based on he Aboriginal story of how the Sturt's Desert Pea came to be

A quick embrace and the warrior was gone

He faded from her sight

The dusky maid kept silent vigil

She gazed in vain for his return

Time passed, the lovesick maid grew thin

Until no more could she be seen

The tribe wailed loudly at her passing

Rain fell across the desert,

From the barren earth there sprang new life

The desert turned blood red as flowers

With eyes as black as ebon bloomed

When Sturt’s Desert Pea begins to bud

The tribe rejoices, their beloved lives,

Just for a moment she exists

It is taboo to pick her blooms.

Gwenneth Leane ©

At the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden all 200 species of the Eremophila can be seen and plants bought

Eremophila auria,. The eremophila species has a vast range of color

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Excitement Builds

It is exciting to travel through the bush and discover an Eremophila bush growing in the wild. To see acres of them flowering is sheer magic. The Eremophila thrives in the cultivated garden but to see it in its natural habitat is satisfying.

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