A favourite shrub in my woodland  garden is the spikey  Australian native shrub  Lambertia Formosa.  It was once known  as  the honey flower, but today is more usually called Mountain Devil. It is related to the proteas.

Mountain devil bloom
A devil, but a beautiful one.
Mountain Devil illustration

The shrubs grow to about 2 metres. They are great for small birds, as the prickly foliage offers good protection.  In fact, all the honeyeaters  love the nectar, including parrots and rosellas..

Crimson rosella with mountain devil flower.

Icecream for a crimson rosella.

It is not just birds who enjoy the nectar of the flowers. They have always provided  a sweet addition to the diet of Australian Aborigines. After white settlement, escaped convicts on the run made good use of them, as did explorers such as Ludwig Leichhardt, who wrote; ‘Often when I’ve been tired and thirsty , I’ve bitten off the base of a tuft of Lambertia formosa flowers to suck the delightfully sweet honey out of them.’   I tried some myself today, and yes…..it’s really nice.

There is something quite stylish about the flowers. They make me think of the Melbourne Cup, and the current fashion for fascinators.

Garden art

Perfect for the Melbourne Cup.

Of course the most intriguing thing about the plant is the horned, woody seed capsules. These  are what gave rise to  the name Mountain Devil.

Seed capsule from Lambertia formosa
Look at those horns!

For many years visitors to the Blue Mountains would return home with devilish little souvenirs made from the capsules. Some regarded them as good luck charms. Locals  usually gathered their own raw materials in the bush, but  the going rate for good quality capsules  was 6d a dozen. All that was  needed then were  pipe cleaners and fragments of cloth.

Mountain devil seed toy
Such a cute little devil

The photo below shows dozens of little Mountain Devil characters They were  made in the 1960s by the ladies and their friends for a fete, raising  funds for the Newtown Public School in Sydney.

Making Mountain Devil toys for charity in the 1960s

Labour of love.

Tiny doll made from mountain devil seed capsule

The ladies even produced a  rather creepy little bride doll. She looks a  bit like Miss Havisham, from  Dickens Great Expectations.

The old craft was revived recently, in a most charming way.  Passengers at Woodford railway station found that an anonymous artist had fashioned  some  of the familiar  little  red devils and pinned them to the notice board. They were free for the taking, and came with information slips. Equally heart warming was that recipients responded with thank-you notes.

Mountain devil dolls pinned to the notice board at Woodford Railway Station.
A kind gesture, much appreciated. (photo by Jackie Allen)

I must emphasise that the artist did  not remove the seed capsules from the bush, which is prohibited. The plants are now cultivated, and available from nurseries.

In my garden I have to compete with the crimson rosellas for the seed capsules. They love them,

Crimson rosella eating mountain devil seed.
Nibble with care!
Crimson rosella with mountain devil






The flower makes a fine ‘star’ atop a banksia serrata Christmas tree.

Blue Mountains Christmas Tree, banksia and mountain devil
Oh Christmas tree…..


In 1923 an editorial appeared in which Lambertia Formosa was even touted as Australia’s national flower;

It is a sweet and most glorious thing – the most lovely, in fact, of all Australian flowers. It should have been adopted as emblematical of everything that is good in Australia, instead of the yellow, shapeless wattle flower. The honey-flower has seven anthers – some call them stamens – which would have represented the stamina of the seven states of Australia. It is tridentiform,  symbolical of the sea power that Australia must and should possess in common with that little country that rules the waves – more power to her.

Oh good heavens, I’m not sure those sentiments would go down well these days.

UPDATE – On a somber note…..have you noticed that the poor Mountain Devil flower resembles the wretched Coronavirus? 

SECOND UPDATE – You can buy the little ‘devil dolls’ from the Blackheath Newsagency. They have been made for many years by ‘Nana’ Birrell. Here is mine;

Mountain Devil Doll
  1. I really enjoy your posts and learning more about Australia. (I’m in the UK.)

    • Pauline

      Thanks so much for taking the trouble to leave a message, Lynne. I really appreciate it. We had a holiday home at Marlow for many years, so I know the UK very well.

  2. I enjoyed your tales about the Mountain Devil. They are rather pretty when blooming against the narrow leaves of the bush. I didn’t realize that the base of the blooms could provide nectar for bushland visitors. To produce the blooms in craft mode surprised me because I am left wondering why anything relating to the devil would be worth turning out as craft products. I should imagine it was as a mockery of some sort. I don’t think I’d pin any on my jacket.

    • Pauline

      Well, we have always been a very secular society Heather, so I think people just perceived them as a bit of fun. I don’t think they were meant to be worn though, they were just little souvenirs of the Blue Mountains. I tried some of the nectar today and it was delicious.

  3. Very interesting information about this pretty plant. I think it deserves a better name!

    • Pauline

      No changing it now, Christine. Too many people have affectionate memories of carrying home their little devil. Of course, people in my village are called Blackheathens, so I’m afraid it rather fits!

  4. My daughter recently took my grandkids for a holiday in the Blue Mountains so I told her to make sure she bought them some Mountain Devils as I loved them as a kid and had a collection. Was saddened to hear they weren’t available any more. Told another daughter who regularly bushwalks and drew a picture of a devil head which she recognised as she was a horticulturist and told me there were lots of them where she walks. She found me some on the ground which I can’t wait to turn into devil’s and give to my grandkids. Was wondering if there were any instructions how to make them.

    • Pauline

      Hi Rosyln, they are still available from the Blackheath Newsagency. That’s where I bought the red one in the article. I don’t have specific instructions, but it’s just pipe cleaners attached to the devil ‘head’.

  5. Great to read this! A friend and I were reminiscing recently about how we had gotten little mountain devil souvenirs when we were children. I can’t wait to share this article with her!

    • Pauline

      I’m glad you enjoyed the piece Kris. Thanks for taking the trouble to leave a comment.

  6. Hey!

    This is such an adorable post.

    In the 1960’s my family met up with our cousins and had a big family holiday staying at the Hydro Majestic Hotel. It totally rocked, I’ll never forget it. I would have been about 6 years old.

    I remember the little Mountain Devils… there were in little display cases in the walls of the guest room corridors at the Hydro. I was a daydreaming child with a big imagination & I was charmed and mesmerised by these devils…

    I craved one but alas it wasn’t to be. They were so darn compelling and have remained in my imagination. (I also recall mountain fairies & Gonks being in he display cases.)

    I couldn’t believe it when I read that the devils dolls were made by a couple of Newtown Mums raising money for the school… I’m now a Newtown Mum & all of my kids went through Newtown Primary.

    These women were geniuses!

  7. Lambertia Formosa was one of the plants that got me into native gardening, they grew in a crack in a rock on my parents property in the Blue Mountains where I grew up, I was once made a group of tapestries of my favourite natives plants by someone dear to me, my favourite was of the Mountain Devil.

    • Pauline

      They are truly wonderful plants Jay. The birds love the nectar and I love watching them feed.

  8. Great post! Very informative. I have a couple of mountain devils growing at my place in Killcare. I feel more attached to them after reading your article.

    • Pauline

      Thanks so much for taking the trouble to leave a message Angus. I really appreciate it.

  9. Hi Pauline!
    Do you know if there’s are still being sold in Blackheath or if there’s anywhere else I would be able to find one? Desperate to get one as a present! Thanks

    • Pauline

      Hi Kate, yes… they are still on sale at the Blackheath Newsagency.

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