Monday, 23 February 2015

Try growing: mountain devil (Lambertia formosa)

Mountain devil (Lambertia formosa) is a medium-sized shrub that will fit in well in any sandstone-based garden. It has long dark green leaves and absolutely stunning flowers that appear in spring and autumn (and often at other times as well). The flowers are succeeded by two-horned seed cases that are said to give the species its common name. 
The stunning flower of the mountain devil. Strictly
speaking it is an inflorescence, made up of seven
separate red flowers. These ones are about to open.  
The plant in the foreground here is the mountain devil.
This picture shows the reddish tinged new. 
A good use for mountain devil is as part of a mixed screen. It doesn't generally have a very dense habit, though denser growth can be encouraged if you prune it regularly. We've grown it together with other sandstone species such as hairpin banksia (Banksia spinulosa), sweet wattle (Acacia suaveolens) and Pultenaea blakelyi (a fine-leaved shrubby pea plant that has not yet been given a common name).
Here's a devil mixed in with banksias,
wattles and a Breynia oblongifolia.
Mountain devil grows naturally on low-fertility sandstone based soils, like those found to the west of the Illawarra escarpment. If you want to grow it to the east of the escarpment, you will most likely need to modify your soil by adding sand and perhaps mounding up the soil a bit to improve drainage. (Although our block is to the east of the escarpment, it contains a lot of sandstone rubble that presumably came down long ago from the top of Mount Keira, so devils are pretty happy here.) 

Another bonus to this species is that it attracts birds. In our garden the main fans are crimson rosellas and eastern spinebills. The spinebills are specialist nectar feeders with a beak designed to insert into long narrow flowers like these, but the rosellas are generalists and destroy the flowers in getting to the nectar. 
An eastern spine bill about to enjoy some
mountain devil nectar.
Mountain devil is the only Lambertia species that grows in the eastern states of Australia. There are ten species in total, all endemic to Australia, and the other nine are all restricted to the biodiversity hotspot of south-western WA.   

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