Wildflowers of Western Australia
“There was a scrap of garden at the back, with a path down the middle, and a fine Australian tree at the end, a tree with pale bark and no leaves, but big tufts of red, spikey flowers. He looked at the flowers in wonder. They were apparently some sort of bean flower, in sharp tufts, like great red spikes of stiff wisteria, curving upwards, not dangling. They looked handsome against the blue sky: but again, extraneous. More like scarlet cockatoos perched in the bare tree, than natural growing flowers. Queer burning red, and hard red flowers! They call it coral tree.” – D.H. Lawrence, Kangaroo
D.H. LAWRENCE MENTIONED Australia’s unique flowers throughout his famous semi-autobiographical novel about a writer visiting Sydney. Our amazing florals have captured many imaginations – almost as much as the sands of the outback.
In WA these two features are often combined and have created a bustling community of plants that, much like the bushies of the outback, have become even more showy, even more different, rare and endemic in order to survive in a landscape whose defining feature is nutrient-poor soil.
Indeed in the eyes of early explorers, Western Australia’s flora seemed disappointing, scraggly and sparse. Only William Dampier paid much attention to them, remarking on the predominance of blue among the flowering plants after his second expedition to WA in 1699.
However after the Swan River colony was set up in 1829, it became renowned for its unusual wildflowers, with botanists visiting from all over the world to study our floral gems.
Today we know there are some 12,500 flowering species in WA, 60 per cent of which are endemic to the state – and 775,000 visitors each year flock to take a gander at these blooms.
See issue 109 for our feature on WA’s wildflowers by Vicki Laurie.