Versatile Hop Bushes
Hop bushes (Dodonaea sp.) are so named as their colourful fruit bear a similarity to the fruits (hops) of an entirely different plant used in brewing beer. They are members of the Sapindaceae family many of which produce a soapy chemical (saponin) in the leaves, roots and seeds. There are 69 different types of Dodonaea, of which 60 are found only in Australia in a range of different habitats.
A planting including different species can produce an aesthetic feast of varied fruit colour, leaf shape and plant height. For example, although the small-leafed hop (D. triangularis) and the forest hop bush (D. triquetra) both grow to 3m, their growth pattern and foliage are quite distinctive. The former is a branching shrub with 3.5cm long leaves whose apex is toothed, the latter is an open shrub with 12cm long lance-shaped leaves. Both produce small green flowers in winter and have papery fruit. The fruit of the small-leafed hop tends to be green and is smaller than that of the forest hop bush which can range in colour from green, pink or purple. The leaves and fruit of the smaller (2 m height) D. viscosa subsp cuneata are different again. The 2.5cm long leaves have blunt ends and the fruit start off green but change to pink then reddish during the winter-spring season.
Although successful in most cultivation with full or partial sun, the velvet hop bush (D. rupicola) grows well in areas that are prone to frost during winter or experience periods of extreme dry. This reflects its natural habitat of montane regions. The plant is only found in the wild in the Glasshouse Mountains (on Mt Tibrogargan and Wildhorse Mountain) and is classified as a vulnerable species. This in itself makes the plant well worth cultivating. The leaves of this species are soft, velvety and fern-like, its small flowers are pink as are the fruit. Since the velvet hop bush only grows to about a metre in height, it is ideal in rockeries or borders to plantings of taller plants.
The hop bushes are significant bird-attracting plants. They provide shelter for small species, while the fruit and seeds (and the insects that feed on these) provide food for other birds.