Wildflowers of My Native Australia

by Patrick on August 4, 2013

Margaret Preston, Native Flowers

People often ask me if I miss Australia and my guttural response is almost always, “Horribly”. Even though I was only 13 in 1978, I was literally grounded to the Australian soil. I visited my grandparents on the edge of the Outback at least once a year and sometimes twice. I was gardening by age four but was always exploring in the bush where I was fascinated by the plants who could handle the heat. Being the oldest continent (Yes, we were first), the most iconic plants have a prehistoric feel relying on bold displays of thousands of stamens  to  generate color and attract pollinators. They did not evolved enough to develop petals but the petals would loose to much moisture via evaporation and shrivel up quickly in the hot blazing sun

Here are some of the best:

Banksia

In the image above by one of Australia’s most famous artists, the preponderance of flowers are the banksias. Named after Sir Joseph Banks, one of the most esteemed Australians, was the botanist who accompanied Captain James Cook on the discovery of  Australia voyage.See we’re just as mad as the British about gardening when every third grader and up in the country knows the name and history of a botanist.

Both images here are of my personal favorite, Banksia menziesii, named after Australia’s WWII leader and longest serving prime minister. It is but one of 170 known species. The flower heads pictured here are about 4″ high. I have some that have been hanging from my ceiling for two years now and still look pretty cool.

porteouspark.org.au

In 2000, we started an online business named Banksia Garden offering imported Australian gifts with a gardening/naturalist theme. But our biggest seller was fresh wreaths of Aussie wildflowers and foliage sourced from Silvermink Protea Ranch in CA. Talk about scent and they could dry on your wall. Like so many dot.busts of the time, it didn’t succeed because the traffic was not enough to sustain a small boutique but it was a fun ride.

plantsystematics.org

Eucalyptus

You know the one the kookaburra sits in, the gum tree is most often known for its scent and peeling bark trunks. But the flowers can be dazzling from afar, yet stunning up close if you’re yearning to climb a tree. See what I mean and note the profusion of stamens:.

 

flowerinfo.org

 

There are over 700 species of gums in a myriad of colors as displayed in Gum Blossoms, also by Mrs Preston.

Hake

Not a well known tree, but I think it would have a following if the common name was the Sea Urchin Tree. Surprised the florists don’t pull this one through the supply chain.  Against the smokey blue-green foliage, it also reminds me of a firecracker. (Better moniker?)

 

anbg.gov.au

Grevillia

Closely related to the hakea,there are over 360 very different species with the most glorious of the species being Grevillia robusta or the Silky Oak Tree. Just look at this display:

 

Beth Kinsey w/ permission

 

They line the streets of my grandmothers’s country town and that was a sight to see.

The other outstanding feature of the silky oak it’s its large fern-like leaves measuring 1′ long. The silver backing of the leaf only adds to the dramatic effect when a calm wind blends silver and green together. Imagine the cool feeling when massed on a 100′ tree?

Acacia

One of Australia’s most beloved wildflowers and commonly known as waffles, there are over 900 species in Australia mostly in shrub or small tree form. Masses and masses of fluffy yell0w balls with six small petals but once again covered in stamens so you can’t see the petals. My grandmother would bring in large stems but as soon as they looked like they were ready to shatter, they were out the door.

UBC Botanical Garden

I had a rare treat when I visited Longwood Gardens years ago in January when I broke away after meetings with FMC in downtown Philly. In the West Conservator Complex, you can find the Acacia Passage which is formed by tying the upper branches of the Cinnamon Wattle (Acacia leprosa) to form a tunnel. While it doesn’t have the vigor as it would grown outside, you can imagine walking through the passage with trusses of yellow flower hanging above you. You can see the whispy foliage in this image:

Longwood Gardens

Callistemon

The other truly beloved native is another small tree or shrub. If a picture paints a thousand words, you will eee this image only needs three: baby bottle brush to explain the common name.

UBC Botanical Garden

Bottle brush trees can be dramatic in there effect and come in many sizes including some dwarfs that are perfect for mixed borders.

How about this for a stunning but not unusual display for a bottlebrush in all its  glory. This is the weeping bottlebrush:

trees planet w/permission

Did you happen to  notice as we went along the sheer amount of species for each of these five selections. Well, I added it up to find there were 2,300 species of just the plants in this post. Now although Australia is the largest island in the world, it is the smallest continent. But few people realize my homeland is as large as the continental United Sates so we have plenty of room for species but these numbers are an amazing testament to the wonders of the natural world.

Patrick's Garden

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Donna August 5, 2013 at 8:07 pm

I really liked this post, Patrick. You gave me something to look up and learn about. I did not know Australia was the first continent. You are so right plants look prehistoric. I think the Aussies have the coolest animals on the planet. I have one, a cockatoo, but he sometimes makes me want to buy him a ticket back there. I love that Eucalyptus plant. I like the art too. It reminds me of Van Gogh a bit.

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Patrick August 7, 2013 at 9:07 pm

Hey Donna,
So glad you enjoyed this post because I so enjoyed writing it. I hope one day, you see gum trees amassed in blooms for yourself.

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New Hampshire Gardener August 7, 2013 at 4:10 pm

These are all very beautiful but I think my favorite is the silky oak. Austrailia must be a real special place with flowers like these everywhere.

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Patrick August 7, 2013 at 9:03 pm

Hey NHG,
You’re so right. From a naturalist’s perspective, it’s like the awe one might feel when visiting another planet. Am I prone to hyperbole when discussing my homeland? I plead most guilty, my learned friend.

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PlantPostings August 7, 2013 at 7:49 pm

Fascinating plants–and so different from what we have here. If I ever get to Australia, it would be so exciting to see those plants in their native environment.

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Patrick August 7, 2013 at 8:57 pm

In surveys for many years, when Americans are asked what country they most want to visit, Australia’s way on top. I would venture to say the feeling would be mutual.

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Jason August 8, 2013 at 7:54 pm

Great post, Patrick. These are such interesting plants, and I had I had no idea Eucalyptus had such flamboyant flowers! I understand that Scaveola is also from Australia – I’m hoping more plants from Australia can be introduced as annuals that can be grown here in the Midwest.

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Patrick August 8, 2013 at 8:23 pm

Hey Jason,
Glad you enjoyed the post so much. It’s a pity but scaveaola is the only suitable annual to date with any success, I know some people grow the blue globe eucalyptus for use in arrangements.

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Kimberley at Cosmos and Cleome August 9, 2013 at 6:53 am

Very enlightening, Patrick. It’s always interesting to see what different things thrive in other parts of our big world, and what the similarities between us all are. I think you’re right–it should be called the “Sea Urchin Tree!

Longwood Gardens is about three hours from me, yet I seem to never get there. I “liked” them on Facebook, and they have many, many special events there throughout the year. Maybe once my children are out of the house, I’ll have more time for a couple trips down there each year.

Thanks for the international botany lesson!

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Patrick August 9, 2013 at 6:59 am

Hey K,
Glad to be an enlightener for you. Yes, you’re blessed with many great gardens in that area of the country. But put the acacia tunnel on your bucket list to be crossed off one day, my dear friend.

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Alistair August 10, 2013 at 8:17 am

Great post Patrick. So many interesting plants from your homeland. The Bottle brush is often seen in our garden centres. I have lost count as to how often I have given them a go but they are just not hardy enough for the Scottish garden.

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Patrick August 10, 2013 at 8:54 am

Hey Alistair,
Looks like this post has been very well received. Not surprised at all you can’t grow my beloved bottle brush. Perchance England will be more suitable, my learned friend.

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Shirley F. August 14, 2013 at 7:58 am

Amazingly gorgeous blooms! We had eucalyptus trees in California but I don’t think I ever saw them bloom. Callistemon grows in south Texas quite well.

There are several native acacia trees in Texas and the bending branches full of golden poms are a treat each spring.

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Patrick August 14, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Still amazed at comments people have seen gum trees but not their blooms. Perchance they mustn’t have been there at the right time because it’s not hard to find even on a big tree.

Wasn’t aware of the Texas species that look very similar but the Aussie species don’t have thorns. Amazing that have way around the world and on two very different continents, there are two of the same species that look so similar. Isn’t creation grand, Shirley?

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