An evergreen densely leafy shrub up to 3 ft high, of rounded habit, densely branched; young stems downy. Leaves oblong-linear, blunt, spreading, leathery with strongly revolute margins, 1⁄4 to 9⁄16 in. long, 1⁄20 to 1⁄12 in. wide, glabrous or with a few hairs above, downy and, like the stems, covered by a sweetly aromatic yellowish exudate beneath. Flower-heads in dense terminal corymbs; involucral bracts downy, more or less sticky, pale yellow-brown to yellow or red, the inner ones with white, spreading tips; florets seven to fifteen.
An endemic of Tasmania, where it occurs on mountains above 2,500 ft; introduced in 1929-30 by Harold Comber, who collected the seed at 3,500 to 4,000 ft. It is perhaps the hardiest member of the genus. The yellow colouring of the young shoots and the undersurface of the leaves is suggestive of Cassinia fulvida. It derives from an aromatic secretion that renders the plant highly inflammable in the wild – whence the popular name ‘kerosene bush’.
O. ericifolius Hook. f. Helichrysum ledifolium (DC.) Benth. subsp. ericifolium (Hook, f.) N. T. Burbidge; Helichrysum ericeteum W. M. Curtis – This resembles O. ledifolius, but is of more columnar habit, up to 10 ft tall. Leaves smaller, 1⁄8 to 1⁄4 in. long; exudate yellowish, sweetly aromatic. Flower-heads in dense corymbs terminal on the main and numerous short lateral branches, forming very long floriferous sprays; involucral bracts pale brown, the inner with white spreading tips; florets five or six.
An endemic of Tasmania, in montane heaths on the central plateau. A plant at Wakehurst Place, Sussex, about 4 ft high, is intermediate between this species and O. ledifolius, but nearer to the latter. The true species may not be in cultivation; see further below.
O. purpurascens DC. Helichrysum ledifolium (DC.) Benth. subsp. purpurascens (DC.) N. T. Burbidge; Helichrysum purpurascens (DC.) W. M. Curtis; O. rosmarinifolius var. ericifolius Rodway – Very similar in habit to O. ericifolius, from which it differs in the sharply, not sweetly, aromatic smell, the longer (1⁄4 to 3⁄4 in.) leaves, the lack of yellowish colouration of the exudate, the usually purplish-pink involucral bracts, and the more numerous (eight to ten) florets.
An endemic of Tasmania, in dry open places from sea-level to 800 ft. The date of introduction is uncertain, but seeds were sent by Comber in 1929-30 and were distributed as O. rosmarinifolius var. ericifolius, which may explain why it has been grown erroneously as O. ericifolius. It has also been confused with O. rosmarinifolius, and the species portrayed in The Endemic Flora of Tasmania, Part I, No 20, as Helichrysum purpurascens, is not this species but O. rosmarinifolius.
O. purpurascens is inferior to O. rosmarinifolius and O. thyrsoideus as an ornamental, and not reliably hardy. The foliage has a harsh, curry-like odour.