Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney, Australia


Calomeria amaranthoides

Scientific name: Calomeria amaranthoides 

Common name: Incense Plant or Plume Bush

Family: Asteraceae [Compositae]


Callomeria amaranthoides   


For location details ask at the Visitor Centre.

Towering more than three metres and waving their mop-top heads are hundreds of Plume Bushes. Referred to in the literature as Incense Plant or Plume Bush, and botanically as Calomeria amaranthoides, this graceful beauty belongs to the daisy family Asteraceae [Compositae]. The flowers explode into colours ranging from a whitish pink, through shades of pink to the most common colour, red and resemble feather plumes with the impact of a ‘fireworks display’.

The design, planting and cultivation of the garden bed occupied by this special plant are the work of the Apprentice Horticulturists here at Mount Tomah. This mass planting of the Plume Bush gives an interesting and different display in the month of January and should continue into February and beyond. Resembling a tobacco plant with lime green wrinkly leaves from which an aromatic scent exudes and a sticky touch results, the strong aroma has been likened to that of bananas, hops and incense.

Originally known in the English speaking world as Humea elegans or Rose-coloured Humea, the species was described from a plant growing in Lady Hume’s collection at ‘Wormleybury’, Hertfordshire, England. The seed apparently came from Sir Joseph Banks collection and the species was named in the good Lady’s honour. It then became a very popular collector’s item in the 1800s and a bit of a status symbol. Ballrooms throughout the counties displayed this elegant potted plant and aphrodisiac qualities were attributed to the aroma from the leaves.

Was there a race on between the French and English for publication of the botanical description? The Frenchman, Etienne Pierre Ventenat (1757–1808), described the plant from Empress Josephine’s garden in 1804 while, James Edward Smith (1759–1828), was studying the plant in Lady Hume’s garden around the same time. The rules of botanical nomenclature declare the first one to publish the name wins. For this reason we must refer our subject as, Calomeria amaranthoides , published in September 1804 by Ventenat because Smith published Humea elegans in December 1804. Quite a shame, as it is much easier to spell and write Humea elegans than Calomeria amaranthoides. Perhaps it is helpful and consoling to know the derivation of the name from the Greek kalos (beautiful) and meris (part), and amaranthoides meaning like the genus Amaranthus.

Plume Bushes are native to Australia and can be found widely scattered in small colonies along river flats or near coastal regions in New South Wales and Victoria. After bushfires massive flowering occurs partially in the Central Tablelands and especially on the small areas of volcanic derived basalt soil. This is thought to be because the smoke triggers germination of the large amount of seed that remains dormant in the ground between fires.

This fabulous plant is seldom seen in cultivation but is highly prized in the cut-flower industry.