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South Australia’s Christmas bush

One of my favourite plants is South Australia’s Christmas Bush Bursaria spinosa. It is also know by other common names such as Sweet Bursaria or Native Box. This is where common names can be confusing as the same plant can be known colloquially by different names in different regions.

State Flora propagates over 1,000 species of Australian native plants, and because of the inconsistency with some common names, we are particular in using botanical names to identify each species at all stages throughout our nursery processes.

Bursaria spinosa is widespread throughout South Australia and does occur in most states of Australia. It is a variable plant depending on rainfall and soil fertility it can grow anywhere between 2-4 metres high with a spread of 1-3 metres. It is tolerant of most soil types and will prosper quite happily on rainfall as low as 325 millimetres per annum.

Bursaria spinosa has brown bark and dark green leaves but the botanical name (spinosa) alludes to the fact that the branches contain spines which can be ½-1 cm long. Bursaria spinosa’s redeeming feature is the fragrant white – cream panicles of flowers adorning the tips of the branches and these are followed by attractive brown fruits. The fruits reflect the genus name of Bursaria, which is derived from the Latin for a purse or small bag, in shape. They are in flower right now throughout SA and are particularly distinctive in roadside vegetation due to the terminal white flowers that are quite showy.

Bursaria spinosa can be grown as an ornamental plant in the garden, or can be used as an informal hedge and it does respond well to pruning. Because of the spines it can be used as a strategic directional plant in landscaping by defining access, or more accurately denying access.

Bursaria spinosa is an extremely important plant for use in revegetation projects because of its high biodiversity value with butterflies being attracted to the flowers. I have had first hand experience that it is a host to a myriad of different fauna. Once collecting the fruit (and it is advisable to wear gloves when doing so) I stored the pods in an open container in the foot well of the ute only to observe numerous and varied insects and spiders emerging from my collection as I drove along the road.

In conclusion, Bursaria spinosa is a highly recommended addition to any garden.