Australia is covered with the glorious and varied colors of an abundance of wildflowers. Each state and territory has its own flower, and Australia has its own national flower. As you drive through the Australian countryside, you are sure to spot many of these native flowers.
Australia's National Flower: The Golden Wattle
You'll find the golden wattle, or Acacia pycnantha, growing in the wild in many parts of Australia, such as in South Australia's Eyre Peninsula, western Victoria, and southern inland areas of New South Wales. It typically grows to about 13 to 26 feet.
Acacia is the largest genus in the family Mimosaceae, the Mimosa family, which is mainly tropical and sub-tropical. Mature golden wattle plants are said to be reasonably frost- and drought-tolerant.
Because native golden wattle grew naturally in the Australian Capital Territory and had other desirable features including design potential, it had popular support to be Australia's national flower. It was proclaimed Australia's national flower in 1988, the year of Australia's bicentenary. In 1992, Sept. 1 was formally declared National Wattle Day.
Australian Capital Territory: Royal Bluebell
The royal bluebell, Wahlenbergia gloriosa, is the floral emblem of the Australian Capital Territory. It's native to the region, and that was the main criterion for choosing it as the floral emblem. But other desirable features of the royal bluebell include horticultural merit and design potential, both in naturalistic and stylized representations.
Wahlenbergia gloriosa belongs to the Campanulaceae family. It is a small perennial herb with oblong leaves about an inch long. The leaf margins are conspicuously waved.
The violet-blue flowers are up to an inch or so in diameter and often appear to have a paler center because of the light blue base of the petals combined with the purple style, which ends in two white stigmas. The flowers may be erect or nodding and are carried on long, slender stems.
A related species belonging to the Campanulaceae family is the great blue lobelia, also known as the cardinal flower.
In the Australian Capital Territory, the royal bluebell can be found in sub-alpine woodland. It is a legally protected plant throughout its occurrence in the wild.
New South Wales: Waratah
The waratah, Telopea speciosissima, is the state flower of New South Wales. It belongs to the Proteaceae family, which includes the protea or sugarbush.
It is fairly widespread on the Central Coast and nearby mountains and grows mainly in open forest as a shrub up to 13 feet tall. It also grows and flourishes in gardens.
The waratah is distinguished by a mass of deep red flowers grouped in rounded heads two to four inches in diameter surrounded by crimson bracts. It was proclaimed the official floral emblem of New South Wales in 1962. The waratah flowers from September to November with nectar-seeking birds acting as pollinators.
Telopea is derived from the Greek telopos, meaning "seen from afar." Speciosissima is the superlative of the Latin speciosus, meaning "beautiful" or "handsome." Waratah is the Aboriginal name for the species.
Northern Territory: Sturt's Desert Rose
Sturt's desert rose (also known as Sturt desert rose), Gossypium sturtianum, is the floral emblem of Australia's Northern Territory.
The specific and varietal names, sturtianum, honor Australian explorer Capt. Charles Sturt (1795-1869), who first collected the species "in the beds of the creeks on the Barrier Range" during his journey to central Australia in 1844 and 1845. Gossypium belongs to the hibiscus family, Malvaceae, which is widespread in tropical and temperate regions of the world. It is related to the cotton plant, which also belongs to the Malvaceae family.
Sturt's desert rose forms a relatively compact shrub about 3 feet with dark green round-to-oval leaves usually with black stipples. The flowers have mauve petals about two inches long with red bases forming a contrasting center.
Sturt's desert rose has also been known as Darling River rose, cotton rosebush, and Australian cotton.
It can be found on stony or rocky slopes or in dry creek beds around Alice Springs and in the southern part of the Northern Territory, northeastern South Australia, western Queensland, western New South Wales, and parts of northern Western Australia.
Queensland: Cooktown Orchid
The Cooktown orchid, Dendrobium phalaenopsis, is the state flower of Queensland. Originally thought to be Dendrobium bigibbum, the correct botanical name for the Cooktown orchid has been the subject of speculation and debate.
In fact, when the Cooktown orchid was proclaimed the floral emblem of Queensland in 1959, it was under the botanical name of Dendrobium bigibbum var. phalaenopsis. But it appeared that when British botanist John Lindley (1799-1865) named the plant, it was not to be found near Cooktown, the north Queensland town after which the orchid was named.
In 1880, New South Wales Surveyor-General Robert FitzGerald described Dendrobium phalaenopsis as "obtained near Cooktown." A color plate of the orchid, which he published in December that year, is said to clearly illustrate the plant now known as the Cooktown orchid, which FitzGerald described as "obtained in northern Queensland."
The generic name Dendrobium comes the Greek dendron (tree) and bios (life). Many species of this genus are to be found on tree trunks and branches. The specific name phalaenopsis comes from the Greek phalaina (moth). The flower of the Cooktown orchid resembles a moth.
The plants grow to 32 inches tall and have three to 20 flowering canes with three-to-six lance-shaped leaves. Each stem has up to 20 flowers that are shades of lilac and sometimes white. It flowers during the dry season.
The Cooktown orchid is found in its natural habitat in northern Queensland, from Johnston River near Innisfail south of Cairns to Iron Range in the Cape York Peninsula.
Although found in tropical districts with very high summer rainfall, the Cooktown orchid is not a rainforest species. It grows in exposed situations usually attached to tree trunks.
South Australia: Sturt's Desert Pea
Sturt's desert pea, Swainsona formosa, is the state flower of South Australia. It was adopted as the state's floral emblem in 1961.
First discovered by the English explorer William Dampier on his 1688 visit to islands off the northwestern Australian coast, the plant's presence was noted by Australian explorer Charles Sturt in 1844 in areas between Adelaide and Central Australia. The flower was named after Sturt to commemorate his exploration of inland Australia.
Sturt's desert pea was formerly called Clianthus formosus and is also known as Willdampia formosa (named after Dampier). The specific name formosa is Latin for "beautiful."
Sturt's desert pea is a slow-growing, creeping plant with stems and leaves appearing soft gray because of a covering of fine hairs. The flowers stand upright on fleshy stalks, up to 12 inches tall. The large pea flower can be in various shades of red, with a base of deep red to purple to black.
The genus name Swainsona honors English botanist Isaac Swainson, who maintained a private botanic garden near London in the late 18th century. The former name, Clianthus, is now thought to be confined to New Zealand.
Sturt's desert pea can be found in arid woodlands and on open plains, often as an ephemeral after heavy rain. It is able to withstand temperature extremes in inland deserts, and established plants can tolerate light frosts.
A protected species in South Australia, Sturt's desert pea flowers and plants must not be collected on private land without the written consent of the owner. Collection on Crown land is illegal without a permit.
Tasmania: Tasmanian Blue Gum
The Tasmanian blue gum, Eucalyptus glololus Labill, is Tasmania's floral emblem.
The Tasmanian blue gum flowers, larger than those of other Tasmanian eucalypts, usually occur singly in the axils of the leaves. Up to three-quarters of an inch in diameter, the flower buds have coarse ribs and are closed by an operculum, or cap, of sepals and petals.
When the blue gum blooms in early summer, the cap is shed, revealing large numbers of white stamens arranged in several rows near the outside. A thick nectar-secreting disc extends partly over the top of the ovary.
Found throughout the Australian island state of Tasmania, including the historic Royal Hobart Botanical Gardens, the Tasmanian blue gum grows largely in southern and eastern Tasmania and in the middle reaches of the Derwent River. It can grow up to 200 feet tall.
It has been introduced in other parts of the world and can be found in California, the Mediterranean region, parts of Africa and India, Chile, Argentina, and New Zealand.
Victoria: Common Heath
The common heath, Epacris impressa, has the distinction of being the first flower to be officially proclaimed an Australian state floral emblem.
It was agreed at a meeting in 1951 by representatives of interested government departments, societies, and individuals to name the common heath as the floral emblem of Victoria. The official proclamation of Victoria's state flower was made in 1958.
The generic name Epacris comes from the Greek epi (upon) and akris (hill) and refers to the elevated habitat of some of its species. While the flower is certainly impressive, particularly when blooming en masse, impressa is Latin for "impressed" or "indented" and refers to five dimples on the outside of the basal part of the floral tube.
The flower has a number of color forms: pure white, pale pink, rose pink, crimson, scarlet, and rare double-flowered forms. The pink form is the official state flower of Victoria.
The flowers are tubular and sometimes densely packed around the stem in the leaf axils. This gives the flower cluster a cylindrical, brush-like appearance.
A slender, upright shrub growing to 3 feet or so in height, the common heath flowers from late autumn to late spring, peaking in winter.
In Victoria, the common heath is found in coastal regions and nearby foothills, the Grampians, and the Little Desert. It also grows in New South Wales, South Australia, and Tasmania.
Western Australia: Red and Green Kangaroo Paw
The red and green kangaroo paw, Anigozanthos manglesii, is Western Australia's floral emblem. Plants of the genus Anigozanthos have an inflorescence bearing a resemblance to the paw of a kangaroo.
The specific name, manglesii, honors an Englishman, Robert Mangles, who raised the red and green kangaroo paw in his Berkshire garden in the 1830s from seed sent from Australia.
The red and green kangaroo paw is a low shrub growing from an underground stem, with leaves about two-to-four feet long. The flowering stem grows to about three feet tall.
The stem and the bases of the flowers are usually deep red and covered with wooly hairs. The color then changes abruptly to a brilliant green for most of the length of the flower, which splits open to show a smooth, pale green interior.
The red and green kangaroo paw flowers in its natural habitat between August and October. It occurs naturally in Western Australia in heath on sandy soil from the Murchison River in the north to Busselton and Mount Barker in the south and Lake Muir to the east, and on gravel type soil of lateritic origin in the Darling Range.