Native bleeding heart

Native bleeding heart

If you are searching for a tall bushy shrub with interesting foliage to fill in a semi-shaded spot in the garden in frost-free areas, the native bleeding heart (Homalanthus nutans) may be the right plant. The common name is derived from its roughly heart-shaped leaves that start off green but turn red just before falling. This rapidly growing plant reaches maturity within 24 months, with a thick canopy as wide as it is tall. This feature makes it an ideal pioneer species for rainforest regeneration since it provides shade and humidity for secondary rainforest plants. The fallen leaves also form a deep litter layer that provides shelter and habitat for macro-invertebrates and their predators, thus enriching the soil.

Small greenish-yellow flowers on long, terminal spikes formed during spring are followed by bluish-white fruit in the form of a two-lobed capsule. The fruit is food for a variety of birds including the brown cuckoo dove, Lewin’s honeyeater, silvereye, olive-backed oriole and mistletoe bird.

Indigenous to Queensland and New South Wales, the native bleeding heart is also found in Melanesia. In Samoa, it is called mamala tree and the local healers use the bark to treat hepatitis. Aboriginal Australians and the early Chinese miners used its freshly crushed leaves to stop bleeding. In more recent times a chemical in the bark, prostratin, is undergoing research for the treatment of HIV.

This species is excellent for growing indoors. Pruning it to maintain a suitable height and shape, and the addition of slow release fertilizer for native plants will ensure several years of vigorous growth.

Homalanthus nutans
Photograph by Heather Knowles.

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