South Australia’s velvet bushes
South Australia has a handful of velvet bushes, commonly named as such because of their delicate, subtle often slightly hairy foliage and flowers. They are not well known in cultivation but merit more consideration. They belong to a genus entitled Lasiopetalum which is derived from the Greek lasios meaning 'hairy' in reference to either the leaf or the flower.
The velvet bushes are widespread throughout the dryer areas of South Australia growing on alkaline and often infertile soils. They are bushes from 1-2 metres high and have dainty pointed foliage often with the undersides of the leaves being of a light colour.
One of my favourites is Lasiopetalum discolor which is commonly known as the coast velvet bush and can grow up to 1.5 metres high and two metres wide. Growing on alkaline often sandy soils it can tolerate frontline coastal conditions. In South Australia it occurs naturally on Kangaroo Island, Yorke and Eyre Peninsulas, in the south east, but is rare in the southern Lofty Ranges.
The dark green attractive foliage is complemented by masses of pink or mauve almost paper like flowers in spring. Anyone who has had the good fortune in early spring to visit Dhilba Guuranda-Innes National Park, located on the southern tip of Yorke Peninsula, cannot help but be impressed by their floral display. They respond well to pruning and would make an effective hedge for any coastal garden.
Lasiopetalum behrii is the pink velvet bush, about 1-1.5 metres high, and is common in mallee communities throughout South Australia. It is a small medium shrub with interesting dark green rigid leaves which have pale hairs on the under surface. As with many Lasiopetalums the new growth can have a bronze hue to its appearance. It has long lasting drooping flowers mostly pink that occur in spring. It again responds well to pruning and should be used more often as a small hedge or grouped together in landscapes for a prominent appealing effect. I think it is a plant that deserves more recognition.