Ceratopetalum (Festival bush / Christmas bush)

Ceratopetalum Christmas bush, Festival bush Photo courtesy of the Australian Flower Export Council
Christmas bush, Festival bush
Photo courtesy of the Australian Flower Export Council

Festive accent flowers from the land down under.
by Steven W. Brown, AIFD

1 Name calling. Pronounced “SER-ah-toe-pet-all-um,” the genus Cera-topetalum is a member of the Cunoniaceae family and comprises only five species. C. gummiferum, commonly known as New South Wales Christmas bush, is the most familiar. In the United States, suppliers market it either as Christmas bush or festival bush.

2 The aussies have it. Christmas bush is native to eastern Australia and New Guinea where it grows wild in the open forests and rain forests. The plant is a shrubby tree.

3 A flower or not? Christmas bush is widely cultivated in Australia and throughout the Pacific region as a cut flower as well as a source of light wood for paneling, cabinetry and plywood. The inflorescences display masses of red sepals, which are commonly mistaken for flowers. The true flowers are inconspicuous, white and appear in late spring. As the flowers die, the calyces enlarge, turn papery and exhibit a warm carmine color, looking like four or five petals. The foliage of the plant is also very attractive; new growth is often pink or bronze.

4 The greeks again. The name Ceratopetalum comes from the Greek words “keras,” which means “horn,” and “petalon,” which means “petal,” referring to the hornlike shape of the sepals. The species name gummiferum refers to the gum that exudes from the bark of the plant.

5 Opposite seasons. Christmas bush is available from domestic growers mostly during the spring and summer months and from Australian growers from November through March. Check with your favorite supplier for availability in advance of your need.

6 Well developed. Purchase Christmas bush when two-thirds of the “flowers” are developed. Shake the bunches to make sure there is no shedding, and look for signs of wilt, bruising or rot.

7 Essential care. Remove packaging and bindings from these flowers immediately upon their arrival. Trim at least 1 inch from the stems with a sharp knife or pruner, and remove all leaves that would fall below the water line. Dip or place the stems into a hydration solution, then place them into a clean container half filled with a properly prepared fresh flower food solution.

8 Better chilled. Place the flowers into a floral cooler at 34 F to 36 F, and allow them to take up water for at least two hours before designing with or selling them. Provide good air circulation, high humidity, light and flower food to keep these botanicals looking their best.

9 A satisfying life. With proper care, these vibrant flowers can last for up to two weeks. Advise customers to recut the stems and change the water frequently and to keep them away from heat sources and direct sunlight.

10 Versatile applications. This relatively new flower to the American market is a striking accent floral for mixed designs, and it blends especially well with roses. Designers experienced with this botanical suggest that it is best used in vase arrangements.

Some information provided by:
Roy Borodkin, Brannan Street Wholesale Florist, San Francisco Flower Mart
Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants (ASGAP),
Australian National Botanic Gardens,

Steven W. Brown, AIFD, is a professor and department chair of horticulture and floristry at City College of San Francisco with 27 years of consulting and educational experience in the floral industry. You may contact him by e-mail at sbfloral@aol.com or by phone at (415) 239-3140.