The Floral Emblem of New South Wales

Right now scattered uncommonly through-out woodland and heathland areas of the Royal National Park, the Blue Mountains and other Hawkesbury sandstone areas, grows one of Australia’s most recognized plants: the New South Wales Waratah (Telopea speciosissima). This stunning plant is in the Proteaceae family which ties it in close relation to Banksias, Hakeas and and Grevilleas.

The Waratah flower is made up of hundred of tiny flowers, each producing pollen. This attracts many bird and even some mammals that also call the dry Eucalypt forest home. Birds such as the New Holland Honey Eater (Phylidonyris novaehollandiae) utilize the Waratah pollen as a food source and are known to be frequent visitors. Another animal that enjoys the pollen of the Waratah is the Eastern Pygmy Possum (Cercartetus nanus). This small and adorable possum comes out during night to feed on nectar and the occasional insect (these are also found scattered through-out heathland and dry woodland in National Parks around Sydney). Both bird and mammal pollinators are vital to the success of Waratahs as they enable the plan to breed by spreading the pollen to other Waratahs scattered around the place, pollinating (fertilizing them), which then enables the Waratah to produce seed. 

 

The NSW Waratah (Telopea speciosissima) | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

The NSW Waratah (Telopea speciosissima) | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

 

Waratahs are one of the plant species which become abundant and prolific after a bush fire event. They are able to take advantage bush fires as the fires eliminate any parasites and diseases the plants may have and the Waratah also has a lignotuber (a swollen woody base largely under the soil, that stores energy and nutrients). The lignotuber enables Waratahs to undergo rapid growth of new shoots after a bush fire event. The Waratahs become really abundant in bush land after 2 years since a bush fire.

 

Waratah | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

Waratah | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

 

These photos were taken along Sir Betram Stevens Drive in the Royal National Park around a month ago. Since then these Waratahs we photographed were picked. Just as a final notice, please do not pick wild Waratahs. One, you are ruining the beauty for other people. Two thy are a protected species and you could get fined if caught, and three, picking them both decreased their abundance, which then can limit the amount of diversity which can lead to poor quality blooms the next year.

Fortunately there are safe havens for Waratahs deep within the Australian bush well away from any paths, including a few rarely ventured and over grown bush tracks in the Royal National Park…