Plants of
South Australia
Ptilotus parvifolius
Shrubby Fox-tail,
Small-leaf Mulla Mulla
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Regional Species Conservation Assessments per IBRA subregion.
Least concern
Near threatened
Critically endangered
Data deficient
Coober Pedy
Mount Gambier
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Botanical art

Kath Alcock painting: 1

Prior names

Ptilotus parvifolius var. parvifolius, partly

Trichinium parvifolium

Ptilotus parvifolius var. laetus, partly

Common names

Shrubby Fox-tail

Small-leaf Mulla Mulla


Ptilotus from the Greek 'ptilotos' meaning feathered or winged; referring to the hairy flowers. Parvifolius from the Latin 'parvus' meaning small and 'folium' meaning leaf.

Distribution and status

Endemic to South Australia and found between Lake Eyre South, Lake Torrens and Woomera, growing on red, brown or grey skeletal soils on rocky scree slopes, gibber flats, drainage lines, and on the edges of salt lakes. Native. Rare in South Australia.
Herbarium regions: Lake Eyre, Gairdner-Torrens
NRM region: South Australian Arid Lands
AVH map: SA distribution map (external link)

Plant description

Rounded, weakly divaricate, subspinescent shrub to 25 cm high with striate, glabrous, pale brown stems. Leaves sessile to subsessile, ovate to obovate, to 5.5 mm long and 2 mm wide, sometimes clustered on new stem shoots, glabrous on upper surface, lower surface with scattered hairs near base, green, apices mucronate, margins flat. Flower-spikes short clusters to 2 cm long with 10–20 pink to pinkish-purple flowers. Flowering between July and January. Ptilotus parvifolius differs from P. whitei, with which it was previously confused, by its narrow, sessile to subsessile, distinctly mucronate green leaves (usually broader, petiolate, apiculate, grey-green in P. whitei), glabrous tepal apices (hairy in P. whitei) and the bract shorter than the bracteoles (bract and bracteoles similar size in P. whitei). Fruits are white to pale brown, ovoid head containing numerous long papery and hairy fruits, each containing one seed. Seeds are dark brown reinform seed to 2.5 mm long and 1.5 mm wide. Seed embryo type is peripheral.

Seed collection and propagation

Collect seeds between October and February. Be very careful when collecting this species as the fruits contain fine hairs that may cause an allergic reaction for some people. Collect the fruit heads when dried to a white to pale straw colour. Each fruit should come off the head easily when fingers are rubbed up the stem. Collect more fruits than required as not all fruits contain viable seed. Be very careful when cleaning this species as the fruits contain fine hairs that may cause an allergic reaction for some people. To clean, rub the fruit heads gently to dislodge the seed at the base of each fruit. Use a sieve to separate the unwanted material. Store the seeds with a desiccant such as dried silica beads or dry rice, in an air tight container in a cool and dry place. From one collection, the seed viability was high, at 90%. Seeds are non-dormant, viable seed should germinate readily.

Seeds stored:
LocationNo. of seeds
(weight grams)
of plants
Collection number
Collection location
% ViabilityStorage
100 (0.18 g)
350 (0.65 g)
Lake Eyre
Location: BGA — the seeds are stored at the Adelaide Botanic Gardens, MSB — the seeds are stored at the Millennium Seed Bank, Kew, England.
Number of plants: This is the number of plants from which the seeds were collected.
Collection location: The Herbarium of South Australia's region name.
% Viability: Percentage of filled healthy seeds determined by a cut test or x-ray.