Katandra Bushland Sanctuary

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The Epacrids - Australian Heath Plants

Heath is a type of vegetation that usually occupies exposed coastal or mountain ridges. This vegetation is characterised by low-growing plants, usually having small leaves to prevent desiccation in drying winds. The plants of heathland are diverse and come from many different families and genera, however many belong to the Ericaceae family, commonly known as the heath or heather family.

Ericaceae is largely composed of plants that can tolerate low-quality, acidic soils. Like other stress-tolerant plants, many Ericaceae have mycorrhizal fungi to assist with extracting nutrients from infertile soils, as well as evergreen foliage to conserve absorbed nutrients. In addition to the various common heaths, other well-known members of this family include the cranberry, blueberry, azaleas and rhododendrons.

Traditionally Australian or Southern Heath plants belonged to the Epacridaceae family (Epacrids). More recently research using molecular studies has shown that the Epacrids are more closely related to the Ericaceae than previously thought. As a result many botanists (since 2012) now recognise that the Epacrids belong within the Ericaceae family as a sub-family now renamed as the Epacridoideae sub-family.

There are about 426 Epacridoideae species world-wide across south-east Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Pacific Islands and Argentina.

In Australia there are 335 species across 28 genera. These genera include – Acrotriche (14 species), Epacris (35), Leucopogon (143), Monotoca (11), Styphelia (12), Trochocarpa (6) and Woolsia (one single species).

Listed below are the 14 species of Epacridoideae found growing within Katandra.

Acrotriche divaricata, Epacris longiflora, Epacris obtusifolia, Epacris pulchella, Leucopogon amplexicaulis, Leucopogon ericoides, Leucopogon lanceolatus, Leucopogon microphyllus, Monotoca elliptica, Monotoca scoparia, Sprengelia incarnata, Styphelia longifolia, Trochocarpa laurina, Woolsia pungens.

Acrotriche divaricata

Acrotriche divaricata is a prickly, spreading shrub that can be found on the coast and ranges of Victoria, NSW and Queensland, however it is considered uncommon. This could account for the fact that it does not have a widely accepted common name.

Until quite recently Acrotriche divaricate, along with other Australian or Southern Heath plants, was classified as a member of the Epacridaceae family of plants.

Growing to 2m in height, it can be found in sheltered places in woodland in sandy soil on sandstone. Its leaves are dark green, flat, 2-3 cm long and with a sharp point. New growth is reddish with leaves tightly packed together. It flowers from July to August, however, the flowers are tiny, being only a few mm wide and long, appearing along the stem in the leaf margins. Each flower has a greenish perianth tube protected by rows of scale-like bracts and ending in 5 lobes with tufts of hairs at the end of each lobe and in the throat of the tube.  The fruit is a small, edible, red drupe about 3 mm across.

Source - Katandra Bushland News (Autumn 2022 edition)

Acrotriche divaricata leaves, flowers and fruit.

Epacris longiflora

Epacris pulchella

Leucopogon amplexicaulis

Leucopogon ericoides

Leucopogon lanceolatus

Leucopogon microphyllus

Monotoca scoparia

Styphelia longifolia

Woollsia pungens