A welcoming scent and pretty ‘bells’ make the Ash a charming addition to any garden. The tree is native to eastern Australia and needs little maintenance.
If you enjoy beautiful flowers and berries (and the birds they attract), you could grow Blueberry Ash (Elaeocarpus reticulatus) in a decorative pot, as a hedge or just a lovely standalone garden feature.
Blueberry Ash Introduction
Elaeocarpus reticulatus – what does it mean? The name Elaeocarpus comes from the Greek word elaia which means olive, and karpos means fruit.
The name reticulatus is derived from Latin and refers to the ‘net-like’ veins that we see on the leaf. Common names include blue olive berry, fringe tree, lily of the valley tree, fairy petticoats, and prima donna.
The Blueberry Ash tree or shrub can grow quite tall and is evergreen. It has soft and frilly white or pink flowers that arrive in spring and early summer, and distinct blue berries that look a bit like olives.
We don’t suggest you eat them though. This tree/shrub bears fruit most of the year, starting after flowering and continuing into winter.
If a plant’s flowers have the nickname ‘Fairy Petticoats’, you can be sure it will be lovely. They look a bit like skirts or bells. And they smell good too, a scent similar to liquorice.
It’s nice to know that whatever the season, the Blueberry Ash has an attractive flower or berry to brighten your garden. The leaves are beautiful too, especially as the plant begins growing. Shades of bronze and pink appear as young leaves which later become green when the plant matures.
How to Grow Blueberry Ash
Blueberry ash trees are narrow and grow slowly. They range in height from 8m-15m depending on conditions but only reach 3m-4m in width. Due to their narrow shape, they can be useful to create a garden screen or hedge.
(See more Australian native plants for hedging here.)
Propagating Elaeocarpus Reticulatus
Your best bet is to propagate Blueberry Ash from a semi-hardwood cutting. Aim to take a cutting around February which is the warmer growing season. Cut a branch with quite a few leaf nodes and it should be 15-30cm in length.
Trim the bottom leaves off and dip the cut end into rooting hormone. You can then put the cutting in a container with a propagating mix. Remember to water the cutting well. This helps the soil settle.
Growing Blueberry Ash from seeds
It is possible to grow Blueberry Ash from a seed but it’s a longer process. It can take up to two years for a young plant to establish itself.
If you decide to go this route, you’ll want to sow the seed in spring or autumn. You’ll start off by soaking the seed for 3 to 4 days, changing the water daily.
Sow the seed at a depth of 3mm and place in a semi shaded area so it doesn’t dry out. You want the seed to be warm and moist – it shouldn’t dry out or become waterlogged.
Right Conditions for Growing Blueberry Ash Prima Donna
When thinking about the growing conditions for Blueberry Ash, you’ll need to consider soil, light and climate.
This Australian plant is happiest in sandy or loamy soil which needs to be neutral to slightly acidic. Clay soil is also a great option, just ensure it doesn’t remain waterlogged. Add a layer of mulch for good measure.
Blueberry Ash needs soil that is consistently moist but also well-drained. It’s a delicate balance. If the tree gets too much water it will choke the shallow roots but will also throw off the nutritional balance of the plant.
This tree wants a good dose of vitamin D and will do best in a sunny position but can also be just as content in light or partial shade.
Blueberry Ash doesn’t do well in colder climates. If you live in a mild area which experiences light frosts, you will need to protect the tree until it has matured. They’ll thrive best in subtropical and warm temperate areas, and they like the coast too.
Caring for Blueberry Ash tree
A plant or tree that needs very little maintenance is a gardener’s dream and Blueberry Ash is one of these. Once it’s established, it needs very little care.
Fertilising Blueberry Ash
Aim to feed the tree with a native fertiliser while young. The full-grown Blueberry Ash can handle an organic fertiliser like mulch twice a year. (See our review on Yates fertilisers for some of the best fertliser options you can find in 2022.)
Water your tree well while it’s establishing itself. Older plants can handle drought but you’ll need to do extra watering during the dry months.
A retractable hose reel might be the ideal choice for your garden. Check out our retractable hose reel top picks and if this is the right tool to get your garden looking greener.
Pruning Blueberry Ash
You don’t need to do any pruning if you’re growing this plant as a tree. If it’s being used as a hedge or container plant, you can trim your Blueberry Ash after the flowers have wilted. (To get that perfect hedge, you'll need the best hedge trimmers here.)
When you do prune, proceed with caution. You never want to prune the main growing tip of the Elaeocarpus reticulatus. The tree’s response to pruning is often withholding re-growth.
This also applies to the side branches – wherever you cut, it’s going to remain like that. This is a little more permanent than a bad haircut so be sure before you snip.
Common Blueberry Pests and Diseases
Blueberry Ash are quite hardy and shouldn’t be too needy from a maintenance perspective. If you’re going to have any challenges, these are the things to look out for:
- Scale – these tiny insects look quite harmless and will appear as brown growth on the plant. On the underside of their shells though, they have attached themselves to the plant and suck its sap. The solution? You can spray the tree with an organic insecticide as required.
- Sooty mould – This fungus will make your tree’s branches and leaves look like it’s covered in black soot. The mould actually grows in the secretion of common plant pests.
That means you need to eliminate the pests on the plant to prevent more mould. Once this is done, you can then wipe the leaves and affected areas. Spraying the tree with something like neem oil is effective in eradicating the pests and the fungus.
It’s worth noting that sooty mould is more common in stressed trees – you might need to change your watering habits or improve the soil.
- Caterpillars – if you start to notice that your tree looks a little less leafy than usual, you might have a caterpillar crisis on your hands. You wouldn’t usually have this issue with established trees but for a younger one, you can once again treat with neem oil.
- White film on leaves – white marks can develop as a line along the edge of the leaf or it might appear as a light coating all over. You’ll be relieved to know this is normal and nothing to worry about.
Blueberry Ash Tree FAQs
How long can a Blueberry Ash survive?
Elaeocarpus reticulatus has a good life span and can live up to 50 years.
Can you eat the fruit?
The outer skin and soft inner layer of the fruit is safe to eat, excluding the seed. The fruit is used in Australian Aboriginal Cuisine to make things like Bush tucker tea and is used in making jam.
You’ll find the best fruit hanging from the underside of the tree and if it’s wrinkled, you know it’s going to taste good. If the fruit is bright blue, you can eat it raw.
Is it a tall tree?
Blueberry Ash grows 3–15 m tall but when found in one of the rainforests in New South Wales or Queensland, it can grow to a height of 30 metres.
Can it grow anywhere?
Blueberry Ash is a hardy plant and grows under many conditions. It originates from rainforest environments like southeastern Queensland, eastern New South Wales, and on Flinders Island in Tasmania.
Over time, the tree has adapted to grow in the drier climate of south-eastern Australia. In New South Wales it grows in moist areas, Eucalyptus forests and sandy coastal scrub.
What kind of birdlife does the tree attract?
The Regent bowerbird collects the fruits for their blue colour. Other birds that eat these fruits are Wonga Pigeons, Crimson Rosellas, Figbirds and White Headed Pigeons.
Does it really stop fires?
Elaeocarpus reticulatus is fire retardant – this refers to plants that will not ignite easily in a moderate intense bush fire. If it ignites during a big bush fire, this tree would burn slower.
Looking to grow more native plants? See our Growing Australian Native Plants Ultimate Guide.
Start Growing Blueberry Ash Today
Elaeocarpus reticulatus is pleasing to the eye and requires minimal work. It will look lovely most of the year round, attract some interesting visitors, and be sizable enough to make a statement. Blueberry certainly gets our thumbs up!