- Author: Karen Metz
Two weeks ago, I was thrilled to discover my Bottle Brush plant, Callistemon citrinus, had finally flowered. There was one full blossom and a few small wispy ones. Now, I know what you are thinking at this point, why are you getting so excited about a bottlebrush? It's pretty common and your specimen is on the spindly side. You would be correct and I'd have to explain that this plant and I go way, way back.
In 2001 my husband and I went to Australia. We fell in love with interesting plants and animals there. We had been inspired by the incredible Royal Botanical Gardens at Sydney and Melbourne. While there I picked up a seed sampler of iconic Australian plants. I can't remember all of them, but I do remember Paperbark Tree, Melaleuca quinquenervia; Heath Banksia, Banksia ericifolia; Kangaroo Paw, Anigozanthas; Grevillea; Golden Wattle, Acacia pycnantha; Waratah, Telopea speciosissima; and Bottle Brush, Callistemon citrinus.
When we were returning to the United States, I dutifully presented myself to the US Agricultural Station at the airport with my hermetically sealed seed sampler. The inspector slowly looked them over and then condescendingly asked me if I really thought I'd be able to grow anything from the sampler?
I carefully thought over possible responses. Not a chance in hell but I'm eager for an exercise in futility or I am secretly a masochist and failure will give me great pleasure sprang to mind. But, given that this man could throw my seeds away I decided on a cheery, “Well, I certainly hope so.”
Once home I carefully sowed representatives from the seed sampler. Some germinated and a few Kangaroo Paw even made it to the four-inch pot stage before dying. My Bottle Brush survived. It never quite thrived though and I moved its container from place to place in my yard over the years. I finally put it in a half wine barrel and it even made it through the drought years. I had read that it needed full sun and should bloom “freely”. I brooded.
Finally, after eighteen years, it has bloomed. I don't know if it had to age into blooming (I kind of doubt it) or if all the winter and spring rain helped; who knows? I am just glad I hadn't given up and thrown the plant away. Was it patience I had exhibited or stubbornness? I suspect the latter. Meanwhile, I am hoping for more blossoms.