By the 1880s the shrub was well established as a symbol of Christmas in the colonies. It has also been grown as a garden plant for many years. Since the 1990s, Christmas bush has become an important commercially-produced cut flower for domestic and export markets.
The availability of high-quality cultivated product has extended domestic acceptance of the flower to the whole month of December, and even longer in export markets, particularly Japan, where it is supplied from from mid-October to Christmas. Commercial production occurs from southern Queensland to Victoria, enabling supply of the product from mid-October to January or later.
The valued part of the Christmas bush, the red ‘flowers’ are in fact not flowers at all. The Christmas bush produces small white flowers in spring with petals about 3mm long. Each flower is surrounded by four or five sepals (outer bracts) that grow from 2mm to 12mm and change colour to various shades of pink and red. By early summer, the flower-like sepals are fully coloured, and make for the attractive product that are sold as Christmas bush ‘flowers’.
Both horticultural (growing, harvesting and packaging) and marketing skills are very important in the production of Christmas bush. Especially critical is the ability to schedule harvesting and marketing.
The primary requirement for the production of quality flowers is protection from hot, dry winds, from bud formation through flowering to harvest. Adequate water is also important, especially from flowering time to harvest when regular irrigation is generally required.
The wildflower industry body is WildFlowers Australia, which represents a diverse range of industry participants, including growers, buyers, wholesalers, exporters and importers, and research and extension specialists.
Facts and figures
- The attractive red parts of the Christmas bush are sepals, that develop after the plant has flowered in spring time
- The potential vase life of Christmas bush is significantly determined by growing conditions before harvest; mild temperatures and higher humidity give best vase life
- Christmas bush can be dry stored for about two weeks at 6–8 °C without significant loss of vase life provided it is handled according to established postharvest procedures
- Christmas bush flowers from mid-October in southern Queensland through to January or later in Victoria
- To supply key markets before Christmas, areas between Gympie in the north to the Sydney basin in the south appear most suitable for production.
The Australian wildflower industry (including but not solely Christmas bush) is located mainly in Western Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and south east Queensland.
It is estimated that at least three-quarters of Australia’s wildflower production was exported; and the industry comprises 400 growers, about 50 wholesalers and exporters, and thousands of florists and supermarkets who sell the flowers within Australia. Many growers of wildflowers are part-time growers who have other business or farming interests, and they may grow one or several species of wildflower, depending on their individual circumstances.
Industry statistics do not provide grower or production information at an enterprise level for Christmas bush, although in the mid-2000s it was described as the fastest growing export crop in eastern Australia, with 100,000 plants under commercial cultivation. Cultivated Christmas bush is generally of much higher quality and has a longer vase life than wild-harvested stems, which are now mostly unsaleable.