Scientific name: Isopogon formosus
Plant type: Perennial shrub
Environment: Full sun in well-drained soil
Bloom: Small head of bright purple flowers with yellow styles
Uses: Specimen plant
Gondwana Circle - 61
When in flower, Isopogon formosus is quite eye catching. A member of the Proteaceae, this medium sized shrub is native to western Australia. The species was first published in 1810 by Robert Brown in a sweeping review of the Proteaceae. Brown, a Scottish botanist, collected extensively in Australia in the early 1800s with the assistance of Peter Good, who was tasked with collecting seeds for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Following this expedition, Brown described over 1000 species seen in western Australia alone. In this publication, he also described the genus Isopogon, which is endemic to the region.
The name Isopogon translates to “equal beard”, referring to either the fringe of flowers or the hairs that surround the fruit. The specific epithet formosus means beautiful, and is quite fitting, given the purple inflorescences that appear on the plant throughout the spring. As with most members of the Proteaceae, what appear to be the flowers of the plant are actually pseudanthium. Pseudanthium, or composite flowers, look like one flower, but in fact are composed of hundreds of small individual flowers.
Isopogon formosus is a medium sized shrub that can grow up to 6 ft tall. As mentioned, it has very attractive, bright purple inflorescences with yellow styles protruding as the flowers mature. These inflorescences will give way to cone shape seed pods, which give the plant one of its common names, drumsticks. The leaves of I. formosus are deeply divided and are a reddish color when they are young. In its natural habitat it occurs in coastal heaths and woodlands, in areas with dry summers and wet winters, allowing it to thrive here in San Francisco. In cultivation, I. formosus prefers placement in full sun in well-drained soil.
IN BLOOM CONTRIBUTORS: Text and profile by Victoria Stewart. Photos by Victoria Stewart and Brendan Lange.