What is Bursaria?

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  • Written By: Alex Tree
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 04 October 2019
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Bursaria is a genus that belongs to the family Pittosporaceae and order apiales. The plants of this genus are shrubs and small trees commonly found growing in the woodlands of most Australian states, except the northern territory. The name comes from the Latin word bursa, meaning purse, because its seed capsules look like a purse. These plants contains aesculin, which was used in the sun screen formula for World War II Australian soldiers. It is now used as a tropical disease-testing reagent and as blood vessel disorder and hemorrhoid treatment.

This genus has seven species. They are known to have attractive flowers and are therefore a common addition to gardens and landscaped areas. If maintained properly, the shrubs can create a tight hedge that provides full coverage. Allowed to grow naturally, these shrubs provide tall fencing.

The most common species is Bursaria spinosa, also known as sweet bursaria, blackthorn, and prickly box. It is an upright and spiny shrub that can grow up to 10 to 13 feet (3 to 4 m). The leaves are solitary or clustered and are typically 0.8 to 1.8 inches (20 to 45 mm) long and 0.5 inch (12 mm) wide. Milky-white star-shaped flowers are clustered in the terminal end points of the plant and give out a sweet smelling scent. Bursaria spinosa is known as the Christmas bush in Australia because the flowers grow in full bloom during their mid-summer, which is around Christmas time.


Bursaria plants have many uses in the animal kingdom. Their sweet flower nectar is an important source of food for butterflies and their larvae. The intricate structure of the bush is where many types of spiders create their webs. In time, these web remnants become nesting places for birds, such as the black headed and New Holland honeyeaters, robins, and grey fantails. The bushy, thorny, and thick structure of the Bursaria plants serve as a defensive barricade for small forest animals seeking refuge from their predators.

The plants in this genus have several uses in health and medicine. Aesculin, which is a glycoside extracted in large concentrations from its leaves, was used as sun screen by Australian gunners during World War II. It is also used as a significant bacteriological reagent for the analysis of tropical diseases by Australian forces. This is likewise used for the management of hemorrhoids and the treatment of blood vessel illnesses in Australian servicemen assigned to the tropics.


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