Emu bush, or tar bush, is a member of the figwort family with recognized species. Native to all Australian states, the Eremophila glabra can either grow as low ground-cover or as an upright shrub.
Flowers can be of different colors, including red, yellow, and orange. Over 20 subspecies are commercially available.
There are many more subspecies of Eremophila, not all of which have yet been described, although most have been accepted by the Australian Plant Census (APC).
Because the emu bush is so variable, multiple plants in the garden can give the impression of many species growing. E. glabra is a shrub that is easy to care for and doesn’t require much in the way of maintenance.
Emu bush or Eremophila glabra was first classified and described in the early 1800s by Robert Brown, but was not given its current name until a century later.
|Scientific name||Eremophila glabra|
|Common names||Tar bush, emu bush,|
|Height||4 inches to 10 feet (0.1 m to 3 m)|
|Width||4 inches to 10 feet (0.1 m to 3 m)|
|USDA Plant Hardiness Zone||Zones 8b to 10|
|Flower colors||Red, yellow, orange, pink, white, green|
|Plant specific features||Attracts birds, heat and drought tolerant|
How to Plant and Grow Emu Bush
The emu bush flowers during the winter; it is often in bloom on St. Valentine’s Day, which has resulted in the shrub also being known as Valentine bush.
There are so many forms of this shrub, that the appearance in the garden can be very different.
Where to Plant
E. glabra has much to offer the gardener. The shrubs are evergreen and tolerant to both drought and extreme heat. An added plus is their winter flowering period.
You can grow a selection of emu bush shrubs, and you will have a variety of plant sizes, shapes and flowering colors, all from just one plant species.
Emu bush is a good choice of a shrub to use in land reclamation planting schemes, such as regeneration schemes following opencast and drift mining operations.
When to Plant
Plant a container-grown emu bush either in the Fall or in the Spring. Always avoid planting during extremes of temperature, as this puts additional stress on the plant.
After planting, is a time when the newly planted shrub needs to focus its energies on re-establishing itself in its new growing environment.
Emu Bush Care and Maintenance
Growing and caring for emu bushes is straightforward, providing you can provide the right conditions, particularly in terms of climate and location.
The one and only soil requirement for emu bush shrubs is that it must be well-draining. The shrub will not tolerate wet soil, or soil that doesn’t drain quickly.
Planted in heavy soil, or clay, the roots of the emu bush will be constantly sitting in moist ground, and it will be very short-lived.
Until it is established, water your emu bush. But thereafter, you only need to water the shrub occasionally. When watering, give it a thorough soak.
If you only dampen the surface of the soil, even if you do so frequently, you will not be helping the emu bush. You will also reduce the longevity of the shrub.
Emu bush is drought tolerant, but in desert conditions, it will need some additional watering, possibly every three weeks during prolonged hot, dry spells.
When it is provided with extra water, the emu bush shrub’s flowers will be more spectacular, and more abundant. A lack of water will cause the leaves to become smaller and duller. There will be fewer blooms, and these will also be smaller.
There is no requirement to feed an emu bush. It is a tough and robust shrub that will grow in poor-quality soil.
However, if you choose to apply fertilizer, select an appropriate product and make sure you only give your plant a light dose. Too much fertilizer will harm the emu bush.
This shrub loves the sunshine and should be planted in as sunny a spot as possible. Emu bush or tar bush will cope with reflected heat as well as direct sunlight.
It will survive if planted in partial shade, but it must still get plenty of sunlight to do well.
Pruning and Repotting
When repotting, water well to release the plant’s roots from the container. Tease the shrub out of the pot carefully, to minimize root damage.
The planting hole should be twice the size of the emu bush’s root ball. Plant it at the same depth, or a little less. This will aid with drainage, and prevent the shrub from sitting on wet ground.
When pruning, you will find that you can improve and retain the attractive shape of the emu bush. But in order to preserve the following season’s flowers, it is important to prune lightly, and immediately after the flowers have finished.
This will give the emu bush plenty of time during the growing season to develop its new flower buds. Make sure you don’t cut back to the hard, woody stems.
Although it is possible to propagate the emu bush from seed, this is not a particularly reliable or successful method. Anecdotally, it is said that for an emu bush seed to germinate, the seed must first pass through the stomach of an emu – but this is not proven to be true!
There appears to be no consistency in success rates when germinating emu bush from seed.
Because the emu bush can be relatively short-lived, it is a good idea to multiply your plants. The best and most reliable method to do this is by taking cuttings.
Easy to do, and usually successful, cuttings can be taken at any time of year. The best time to take any cuttings is in the Spring or early Summer when the plant is growing vigorously.
Early in the season, the cuttings will be new and soft. By the Summer, these stems will have turned a little woody, and are known as semi-ripe or semi-hardwood cuttings.
If you fail to take your cuttings until late in the year, you may need to provide some bottom heat in order to get the roots to develop. Some species will form roots better and quicker than others; some will need hormone rooting powder to encourage rooting, others not.
Pests and diseases
There are very few pests that will cause serious concern for the emu bush. Aphids, scale or mealy bug insects may cause minor damage, but will not seriously damage the shrub.
Make sure that the soil is not too heavy, and ensure that it is well-draining. This, together with overwatering, is the primary cause of ill health in the Eremophila species.
Soggy soil will cause the shrub’s roots to rot and the plant will not survive. Overwatering, even when not fatal to the emu bush, will greatly adversely affect the lifespan of the plant.
Temperature and Humidity
Emu bush is a heat-loving plant that likes dry, arid conditions. Originally from Australia, it has gained popularity in dry, hot gardens in the Americas. It is valued for its low water requirements and for its tolerance to extreme heat.
The emu bush will not live long if it is planted in humid regions. Too much moisture will kill the emu bush. This is why it is a good idea to mound the soil around the base of the plant, to aid the drainage around its roots.
If you are in a more humid area, consider planting a grafted plant as this will perform better and live longer. More grafted plants are available each year, with new and improved emu bush plants grafted onto hardier rootstock. Grafted plants can often grow in cooler and more humid climates.
Other Uses for Eremophila (Emu Bush)
The emu bush has been used by natives over many centuries, both as a medicinal and cultural plant. Some species exude a resin, which was used as a type of glue and sealing agent. Leaf and plant extracts were used as antiseptics and skin treatments following injury.
Types of Emu Bush You Can Grow
With over 250 species of Eremophila many of which have also hybridized, there are many plants from which to choose for garden planting.
The emu bush can be grown in a pot, and can therefore be moved around the garden at different times of the year. Pick a smaller variety for pot growing, and make sure that the pot is at least twice the size of the plant’s current container.
If you are looking for an emu bush to provide ground cover, then you need to select a prostrate, low-growing variety such as Eremophila biserrata.
There are many upright, erect species of emu bush available; select one that is of the color, size, and hardiness you require.
The showiest blooms can be found on the spotted emu bush varieties, such as Eremophila maculata. This species grows up to 10 feet (3 m) tall and is a very popular gardener’s choice. The flowers are deep pinky-red and are deeply spotted on the inside of the petals.
Eremophila maculata “Valentine” is also known as the Valentine bush. Its flowers are spectacular and a deep claret red – and they are also spotted. This cultivar will only grow to about 6y feet (2 m) in height and spread.
There is a compact variety of Eremophila maculata, the dwarf spotted emu bush. This has deep pinky-red tubular flowers, which are spotted on their underside.
Like all varieties of emu bush, the flowers attract and provide a valuable food source for hummingbirds and other bird species.
Eremophila nivea commonly known as silky emu bush, has beautiful foliage that is silver colored and produces masses of elongated, purple, bell-shaped flowers.
Eremophila racemosa is a carnival of flowers that change color as they mature. They start off yellow, then turn orange, and finally change to a deep pink-purple. But that’s not all. This evergreen species then produces bunches of berries, rather like grapes in appearance.
This is a really showy plant during its blooming season. And it is an excellent choice of shrub for a xeriscaping planting scheme where access to, or availability of, a regular water supply is difficult.
*image by KHBlack/depositphotos