Lilly Pilly Lowdown
Small-leafed Lillypilly. Photo - alybaba/Shutterstock.com
Lillypillies are versatile: they make great hedges of any height – there’s even one that’s destined to replace the ubiquitous box hedge! - as well as towering trees; or topiary elephants; and a new variety is a dazzler in a pot.
They’ve been around forever, but during the late 1970s, the era of the Australian plant bonanza, native plant enthusiasts and nurserymen rediscovered lillypillies. So much so that a decade later, three or four new varieties were arriving in nurseries every year. Gardeners keen to “plant Aussie” quickly snapped them up, as they looked for an alternative to camellias and conifers for privacy hedges and formal clipped potted plants.
Many new cultivars were promoted as feature plants for hedges, topiary, potted display, low borders and tall screens.What we didn’t know was that 70 per cent of them would become susceptible to an annoying leaf-disfiguring insect called “pimple psyllid”, (pronounced si-lid) that contorts and twists leaves and stems and results in weak and debilitated plants.
So, 30 years later what can we recommend from the vast array of lillypilly varieties on the market? Once you investigate the lillypilly botanical heritage, you immediately land in a quagmire of name changes after name changes. Botanists have had a field day with the various rainforest plants that are grouped under the common name ‘lillypilly’. Before we get into that, though, it’s worth mentioning that ‘lillypilly’ isn’t the only common name for these popular plants. Their reddish pink, red and purple edible fruit has lead to them also being called Australian bush cherry, rose apple, and brush cherry since colonial times. When it comes to their changing names, well we had Eugenia floribunda, the weeping lilly-pilly, but it’s now Waterhousea floribunda. Acmena smithii, the common lillypilly, became Eugenia smithii but has now changed to Syzygium smithii.
Doesn’t sound like a big deal? Well, consider the fact that along this name-changing journey, the true parents of new varieties are being lost, making it impossible for gardeners to accurately identify what they are buying. And that’s important because only some lillypilly species are susceptible to the pimple psyllid, others are resistant.
Lillypillies are native to rainforests from Cape York to Victoria, even King Island in Bass Strait, and are found in a wide climatic range, hence their usefulness in the garden. Once established, they are hardy and drought-tolerant but when rain (or recycled laundry water!) is present, growth is stronger and more lush. Lillypillies grow happily in semi-shade or full sun and all have glossy, evergreen foliage. While many are frost-hardy when established, heavy frost can play havoc with young trees and hessian screening should be constructed if frost is expected.
Pimple psyllids attack the underside of leaves creating small recesses under the leaf which appear as ‘pimples’ or lumps on the upper surface. The scale-like insects excrete a substance, which encourages the fungus black sooty mould. Protect both sides of new growth with a fortnightly spray of Yates PestOil, Yates Natrasoap or OCP’s Eco-oil.
In the garden, lillypillies can been used for privacy screens or tall, unclipped hedges but given their mature height of 12m plus, it is critical that space is available. Pruning mature trees is not an option, although trimming in winter is preferred if it’s needed. Because of their “puffy” white summer flowers, colourful autumn fruit and attractive red, new growth, they can look outstanding year-round.
Lillypilly roots can travel long distances, up to 6-7m, chasing water and if the water happens to be sitting in a leaky water- or sewerage-pipe, beware! Interestingly, if there are no leaking pipes, the trees acclimatise to dry conditions quite well.
Most species of Acmema, Syzygium, Eugenia and Waterhousea, the lillypilly family, are large trees only suitable for large gardens and parks. But in the last 10 years, a collection of dwarf lillypillies has arrived. Here we look at lillypillies to suit all garden situations.
Common name: Weeping Lillypilly
Plant name: Waterhousea floribundum, syn: Syzygium f.
Description: Weeping habit, pronounced trunk with age, hardy to sandy and heavier soils, large dark green leaves, attractive new growth pink to red in spring, white flowers in summer with berries greenish white in autumn. Some psyllids.
Size: Height 20-25m, width 5-7m.
Special comments: landscapers and bush regenerators love this tree.
Common name: Small-leafed Lillypilly
Plant name: Syzygium luehmannii, syn: Eugenia l.
Description: Upright handsome tree, glossy green small leaves, beautiful pink and red young growth, white flowers in summer, large red pear-shaped edible fruit in autumn, hardy in various soils. No psyllids.
Size: Height 10-15m, width 4-5m
Special comments: The most popular lillypilly for use as a tree.
Common name: Lillypilly
Plant name: Syzygium smithii, syn: Acmena smithii
Description: Attractive tree, white fluffy flowers in summer, masses of bright pink, edible fruit in winter, leaves dark green. No psyllids.
Size: Height 10m, width 4-6m
Special comments: An old favourite but still one of the best. Look out for Tim’s ‘Goodbye Neighbours’ variety, which provides an excellent tall hedge quickly.
Common name: Small-leafed Lillypilly
Plant name: Syzygium smithii variety ‘minor’, syn: Acmena s. var. m.
Description: Tall open shrub, small green leaves and light purple coloured fruit. No psyllids.
Size: Height 4-6m, width 3-4m
Special comments: Currently very popular with landscapers and becoming more so with home gardeners.
Common name: Lillypilly ‘Royal Flame’
Plant name: Syzygium luehmannii ‘Royal Flame’, syn: E. l.’R. F.’
Description: Lush new growth of various shades of green and pink, few flowers and fruit. No psyllids.
Size: Height 1-2m, width 2-3m
Special comments: Rare in nurseries at present.
Common name: Lillypilly 'Blaze'
Plant name: Syzygium australe ‘Blaze’, syn: Eugenia australis ‘Blaze’
Description: Compact habit, small leaves, multi-branching, suitable for clipping, bright bronzy-red new spring growth, hardy to sun and shade. A few psyllids.
Size: Height 1-2m, width 1-2m
Special comments: Not always available in nurseries but worth waiting for.
Common name: Lillypilly ‘Bush Christmas’
Plant name: Syzygium australe ‘Bush Christmas’, syn: E. a. ‘B.C.’
Description: Orange new growth in winter, popular with those happy to spray for insects. Prone to psyllids.
Size: Height 2-3m, width 1.5m
Special comments: Even with the psyllid problem gardeners are still being attracted to this variety.
Common name: Lillypilly ‘Tiny Trev’
Plant name: Syzygium australe ‘Tiny Trev’, syn: Eugenia australis ‘T.T.”
Description: Most versatile of all the recent releases, and destined to rivalled buxus for low hedges, small shiny dark green leaves, excellent as a bonsai specimen, low hedge or clipped topiary, few flowers, suitable for coastal and inland regions. Almost no pysillids.
Size: Height 2-3m, width 50-200cm
Special comments: We have specimens in our garden that are knee-high, 1m and 2m tall, all clipped as cones, pyramids and balls in garden beds and pots.
Common name: Lillypilly ‘Allyn Magic’
Plant name: Syzygium smithii var. minor ‘Allyn Magic’, sun: Acmena s. ‘A.M.’.
Description: Dense compact habit perfect for clipping, pink new growth year round. No psyllids.
Size: Height 50-150cm, width 50-200cm
Special comments: Fast becoming one of the most popular dwarf lillypillies.
Common name: Lillypilly ‘Cascade’
Plant name: Syzygium ‘Cascade’
Description: A very attractive hybrid between S. luehmannii and S. wilsonii, weeping habit, leaves are both small and large and new growth bright pink and red, flowers deep red to pink 10cm across in spring with edible pink fruit in summer. Will grow in part shade or full sun. No pysillids.
Size: Height 2-3m, width 1.5m
Special comment: I have waited eagerly for this beautiful hybrid for more than 30 years! Perfect in a tub or as a specimen plant in a garden.
Common name: Lillypilly ‘Cherry Surprise’ & 'Sunrise'
Plant name: Acmena smithii minor 'Cherry Surprise' & Acmena smithii minor 'Sunrise'
Description: Two great new forms of this popular lillypilly, one featuring striking cherry coloured new growth and the other pinks, yellows and apricot tones. Both have good psyllid resistance.
Size: Height 3m, width 2-3m
Special comments: Great as a hedge.