Plants of
South Australia
Ptilotus whitei
Shrubby Mulla Mulla,
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 paintings: 3

Prior names

Ptilotus parvifolius var. parvifolius, partly

Trichinium parvifolium, partly

Trichinium whitei

Common names

Shrubby Mulla Mulla

Small-leaf Mulla Mulla


Ptilotus from the Greek 'ptilotos' meaning feathered or winged; referring to the hairy flowers. Whitei named after Samuel Albert White (1870 - 1954), an avid plant and bird collector in South Australia, Central Australia and Queensland and collected the type specimen at 30 miles East of Deep Well, Lake Eyre Basin in 1913.

Distribution and status

Found in an area north of Copper Pedy in South Australia, growing in red, brown or yellow skeletal soilsof gravelly clay or sand, on gibber plains, scree slopes, quartzitic sandstone hills, limestone outcrops, rocky breakaways, gullies and creekbeds. Also found in Northern Territory. Native. Rare in South Australia. Common in Northern Territory.
Herbarium regions: North Western, Lake Eyre
NRM regions: Alinytjara Wilurara, South Australian Arid Lands
AVH map: SA distribution map (external link)

Plant description

Much-branched, sometimes divaricate shrub to 100 cm high, some old branchlets can be spiny, stems striate, glabrous, sometimes glaucous, new stems yellowish or grey-green, older wood brown to grey-black. Leaves narrowly obovate to broadly obovate, sometimes spathulate, to 12 mm long and 6 mm wide, clustered at young stem shoots, glabrous, pale green to yellowish or grey-green, sometimes glaucous. Flower-spike small loose clusters with 10–40 pale pink, pale purple, or grey (from hairs) over red underneath flowers. Fruits are ovoid head containing numerous long papery and hairy fruits, each containing one seed Seeds are dark brown to black reinform seed to 3 mm long and 2 mm wide. Seed embryo type is peripheral.

Seed collection and propagation

Collect seeds between October and December. 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 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 will have a 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 two collections, the seed viability were 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
BGA620 (1.37 g)100+4-Dec-2010DJD2072
Lake Eyre
1,700 (3.26 g)
1,700 (3.26 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.