Western Australia is a big state, in fact it’s a huge state, and driving from one part to the next can sometimes include long stretches of potentially bland, unchanging scenery. Thankfully WA has the best, showiest and most exciting range of wildflowers seen anywhere in the world, so even the longest drive will be filled with awe and wonder. Western Australia has over 12,000 species of wildflowers, the largest collection found anywhere in the world, and 60 per cent of these species are found nowhere else.
Many of the wildflowers seen in WA have a very small range of suitable habitat, which is a great excuse to explore every nook and cranny of this wonderful state while simultaneously seeking out the world’s most amazing wildflowers.
Escaping the cold of winter in the south west and trekking north has great appeal, and for wildflower lovers the siren song of the legendary wreath flower (Lechenaultia macrantha) is strong. This amazing plant is only seen in a stretch of land from the north east of Perth to Shark Bay, including the towns of Mullewa, Yalgoo and Meekatharra. The gorgeous, ruffled flowers show a range of colour, from creamy white through shades of pink to almost red. They have the delightful habit of flowering around the circumference of the plant, creating the wreath-like appearance that gives them their common name. Wreath flowers have not proved overly successful as garden plants, though some gardeners have reported success as potted specimens, so seeing them in the wild is the only real chance most plant lovers will have to experience them. The low, ground-hugging foliage is not always easily seen from the cab of a car, particularly one that is barreling along a highway at over 100 kilometres an hour, so it pays to keep an eye out for clusters of cars and caravans parked at seemingly random intervals. During ‘wreath-flowering season’ they will almost certainly be there to photograph these much-admired plants.
The real show-offs of the WA wildflower community are most definitely the everlastings. Carpeting large tracts of land all the way from Bindoon to Mullewa, wildflower lovers and keen photographers can expect exceptional displays. Everlastings are so named as they will dry beautifully and then last for many years. However, remember that collecting wildflowers from their natural habitat is illegal, so to enjoy these beauties at home, purchase seeds from an online seed supplier and sow them next autumn and winter.
Foliage and flowers come together with the royal mulla mulla (Ptilotus rotundifolius). Found throughout the mid-west and Pilbara region, this small, shrubby plant has delightful, wavy, grey-green foliage that perfectly highlights the feathery pink-mauve candlestick flowers that smoother the plant and create an amazing display. Many Ptilotus have made their way into cultivation as home garden plants and have proven to be adaptable and successful.
To the south, through the Fitzgerald River National Park, the stunning royal hakea (Hakea victoria) can be seen in all its glory. Unlike most other flowering natives, these flowers take a back seat to the foliage; the rounded, prickly leaves age to striking shades of yellow, orange and red. Unique and incredibly photogenic, this plant is a must-see.
The south west is also home to a Holy Grail of West Australian horticulture, the Qualup bells (Pimelea physodes). It is a small, tender-looking shrub that that produces the most amazing nodding, bell-shaped flowers, greeny-yellow in colour with a diffused blush of red-pink on the reverse of the bracts. The natural range of the Qualup bell is small, contained to the central, south coast of the state. They have proved a challenging plant to bring into suburban gardens, with the best results to date from grafted plants. Trial work to find the best growing and propagation methods have been undertaken to try to satisfy demand for this plant both as a garden specimen and for cut flower production.
Western Australia’s wildly diverse environment has generated an amazing array of wondrous wildflowers. Whether it’s from towering trees, sprawling shrubs, ground-hugging orchids, intriguing carnivorous plants or the stunning annuals, their display is equal to anything seen anywhere in world. Peak flowering is from June until the end of November, depending on the weather, but there is always something worth seeing (and photographing) in the West Australian natural environment.
About the author – Darren Seinor
Darren has spent over 25 years in the horticultural pursuits, including retail, wholesale plant production and, for the past 12 years, running his own landscape business. Darren is also a regular presenter on Greenfingers, the Secrets to Gardening Success.