Western Australia's Wildflowers
A stunning carpet of mulla mulla (Ptilotus species). Photo - Robin Smith/Gettyimages.com
Angus Stewart clues us in on the best ways to see Western Australia’s extraordinary wildflowers.
The wildflowers of Western Australian are one of the true botanical wonders of the world. The biodiversity on offer is world-renowned and is something you really will want to see for yourself. Exploring back roads and national parks around the south-west corner of the state will reward you with the discovery of treasures such as orchids that look like flying ducks; flowers with explosive pollination mechanisms called trigger plants (naturally); and intricate feather flowers that attract colourful jewel beetles as pollinators.
However, it must be said that the wildflower-viewing image that most people have of a field of everlasting daisies or red and green kangaroo paws that stretches as far as the eye can see is not a commonplace sight. An endless landscape of wildflowers can be found, but such displays are unpredictable. Many of the iconic wildflowers, such as the red and green kangaroo paw, rely on bushfires followed by a wet winter season to allow them to reach their peak. When this combination comes together it is a sight to behold, but it can’t be guaranteed. The trick is to seek out the more subtle displays of botanical treasures that are available every spring - if you know where to look.
A pretty mix of blue pincushion (Brunonia australis), everlastings, golden (Waitzia acuminata) and pink and white (Schoenia cassiniana). Photo - Angus Stewart
1. Go flower hunting
One of the best approaches is to go in search of some of the legendary wildflowers that always feature in the Western Australian wildflower books. Some of the notables are the fabled black kangaroo paw of the Kwongan country north of Perth; the royal hakea with its multi-coloured foliage from the south coast near Ravensthorpe; or the rose of the west (also known by its aboriginal name of mottlecah) which has the largest flower of all the eucalypts at about 150mm across. If you can find these rather spectacular and conspicuous species you will have seen a wealth of other species along the way that are worth the journey in their own right.
Everlasting daisies (Rhodanthe chlorocephala subspecies rosea). Photo - Angus Stewart
A beautiful display at Kings Park in Perth highlighted by Swan River daisy (Brachyscome iberidifolia). Photo - Angus Stewart
A good example is the habitat of the wreath lechenaultia (Lechenaultia macrantha), a wildflower known for its unusual prostrate ring of foliage with spectacular displays of red and white flowers around the outside of the ‘wreath’. I located an amazing patch of this plant near Mullewa, a few hours from Perth, in an area that had been subjected to bushfire a couple of years earlier. Bushfires unleash the full potential of the WA bush as the ash fertilises all the flowers and the removal of the tree canopy lets in full sunlight which, in turn, encourages spectacular flower displays at ground level. So as well as the wreath lechenaultia there were breathtaking displays of the bright pink native foxglove (Pityrodia terminalis) and blue dampiera (Dampiera wellsiana) creating an amazing sea of colourful flowers.
The swamp bottlebrush (Beaufortia sparsa). Photo - Angus Stewart
2. Go to the source
Seeking out flora reserves that have been designated as botanical hotspots is another way to find the best of the best. Many of the small towns of WA have their own wildflower show, usually at the local library or CWA building. Many of these shows can be found on the internet by simply searching for the name of the town followed by Wildflower Show. Each of these shows is manned by an enthusiastic group of local wildflower enthusiasts who are normally only too happy to talk about their favourite wildflower haunts in the district.
Photo - Angus Stewart
3. Head for the park
Another approach is to simply visit Kings Park during the annual spring wildflower festival in September. Kings Park is one of the world’s great botanical gardens. It’s perched high on a limestone plateau and has sweeping views of Perth and the Swan River. You can wander for hours among themed gardens that display the flora of each geographical region of WA; gardens of rare and endangered species; and spectacular display beds designed to show off a riot of cottage garden-style wildflower action. There are also many hectares of indigenous flora that has been left intact to show plants like red and green kangaroo paws, spider orchids and grass trees in their natural habitat.
One of the glory peas (Gompholobium species). Photo - Angus Stewart