When we first moved in, almost five years ago now, there were very few native plants around the dam. We pulled out a heap of Agapanthus plants and a large cactus plant which, to us, were at odds with sclerophyll bushland surrounding it. Since then, grass grew, kangaroos and wallabies grazed, and each year we find new native plants growing.
This Autumn, the Cranberry Heath is beautiful. Self-seeded plants are situated around the half of the dam which backs onto the bush. I can only presume that bird, wallaby and kangaroo droppings have helped this process. After flowering, the Cranberry Heath plant produces a berry. I’ve seen plenty of flowers but no berries, so they must be tasty.
Cranberry Heath clings to the ground, spreading out rather than up. The botanical name of Cranberry Heath is Astroloma humifusum. According to Enid Mayfield’s ‘Flora of the Otway Plains and Ranges 2‘, Astron means ‘star’, loma means ‘fringed’ and humifusus means ‘covering the ground’. So it seems that the plant is well named. Until I read the Enid Mayfield description just now, I had no idea that there are 28 species of Astroloma in Australia, but Cranberry Heath is the only Astroloma plant mentioned in her book.
Looking at the plants we have growing here, most are approximately 30 cm to 40 cm in diameter, and Mayfield confirms that they grow to 40 cm in diameter. The dense, round, patches of healthy plants have leaves at the top, and flowers beneath, with flashes of red giving away the location of the flowers. The leaves are long with pointed ends. Mayfield shows illustrations of slight variations in shape which are classified as linear to oblancolate and the edge of the leaf may be either finely toothed or fringed. Flowers are tubular with star-shaped ends. The berries, or drupes, are green when ripe.
Mayfield indicates the Cranberry Heath plant flowers from January to June, so hopefully we have another month of these beautiful flowers to come.