What is a Dwarf Bottlebrush?

Elizabeth West

The dwarf bottlebrush, also known as "Little John", is a smaller version of the bottlebrush, an evergreen shrub native to New South Wales, Australia. It is distinguished by bristly red flowers that almost exactly resemble brushes used to clean out baby bottles. The dwarf bottlebrush is a low shrub that grows to approximately three feet (0.9 meters), with a spread of up to five feet (1.5 meters). The perennial plant thrives best in southern tropical and arid zones.

A dwarf bottlebrush may aggravate a person's pollen allergy.
A dwarf bottlebrush may aggravate a person's pollen allergy.

This plant is a favorite of hummingbirds, who are attracted to its red blossoms. Many gardeners prefer to use natural landscaping that the birds will frequent, instead of using feeders. Bees and butterflies also love the nectar-rich flowers. Pollen on the tips of the red stamen filaments give the brush a speckled appearance, and may aggravate allergies. A cluster of tiny green petals is found at the end of the brush, and the tiny seeds can stay inside brownish fruits on the plant for several years before release.

The dwarf bottlebrush flowers in late spring to midsummer, and grows best in sandy soil with only a little clay. It likes full sun and is drought-tolerant, which makes it an ideal landscaping element in drier climates. Many people like to maintain the larger version as a tree by trimming the bottom branches to enhance the weeping effect. The dwarf bottlebrush is a thicker, rounded shrub, making it a good hedge plant. It doesn’t drop messy flowers or leaves to litter areas such as a patio or pool.

This small shrub also works well in a landscaping border as a ground cover. It should be watered regularly until the roots are well-established. Mulch around the base of the plant helps it retain moisture when the weather is exceedingly dry, and a twice-yearly application of fertilizer will give it valuable nutrients. Overwatering will cause the leaves to yellow. The dwarf bottlebrush is a slow grower, so pruning the plant heavily is not recommended.

For homeowners without a yard or a place to plant shrubs or perennial plants, the dwarf bottlebrush makes an ideal container plant. It is sometimes used in bonsai, a Japanese art form in which very small trees are container-grown and their branches trained to assume pleasing shapes. Container-grown plants will need more water than plants in the ground. Propagation is best done by hardwood cuttings to preserve the dwarf characteristic. The plant is prone to nematodes, but is otherwise quite hardy in the proper climate.

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