[Front Page] [Features] [Departments] [Society Home] [Subscribe]

Australian Plants online

Favourites - 4

Contributions from readers are invited for this series on their favourite species, cultivar, hybrid or plant group. You don't need to write much - three or four paragraphs would be fine! So, if you'd like to give it a go, please get in touch with the editor (sgap@ozemail.com.au). If you have a good colour photograph to accompany it, that would be great but, if not, we may be able to dig up one from somewhere!

Telopea speciosissima - New South Wales' Waratah

Regina Michel

I have many favourite Australian plants, but let's start with one of the most glorious: the waratah which belongs to the Proteaceae family. This evergreen shrub (it can get up to 4 metres high) with its striking crimson flowers (about 7-10 cm in diameter) has left a lasting impression on my mind during my first visit to Australia years ago, coming from a German winter into a very colourful Australian summer.

This is why I will always remember it as one of my favourites!

I believe there are species in different colours available now, but I have never seen one though. The plant is grown for commercial use in the cut flower trade too. Neighbouring New Zealand also does this.

The scientific name does the appearance justice: the Greek "Telopea" meaning something like "visible from afar" and the Latin "speciosus" stands for "beautiful". Does anyone know the translation for the aboriginal name "Waratah" by the way?

Telopea speciosissima  
The brilliant red flowers of the waratah (top) never fail to attract attention. The species is the floral emblem of New South Wales.
The flowers of Telopea speciosissima are eye-catching against the dull green forest background on the New South Wales central coast. (bottom)

Select the thumbnail image or highlighted name for a higher resolution image (33k and 32k).

Telopea speciosissima

I tried to grow one from seed over here, but then it is up to you to decide what caused the failure - unsuitable soil, climate, or a combination of both? Probably the latter... The pre-treatment of my seeds consisted of seed storage in a dry, sealed container in the fridge for 6 weeks. The seeds were then transferred to moist, but not wet, sandy soil. The seeds then germinated, and I was very careful not to overwater the soil. Despite this, the seedlings unfortunately died.

Should you get them through the critical stage and they are large enough to handle, the advice I had was to add rich leaf compost to the garden soil. Avoid water-logging, but never let the soil dry out completely.

If I remember correctly, the waratah is lignotuberous, like so many of the native plants which have to adapt to extreme environmental conditions, like bush fires.

Telopea speciosissima - white
The cultivar known as "Wirrimbirra White" has become widely available over recent years.
Select the thumbnail image or highlighted name for a higher resolution image (32k).

My husband thinks I am a bit crazy with all my plants and the special interest in exotic ones I saw on my travels. But then: isn't it better than spending all the time and money on diamonds? (Although it may probably be easier to get hold of a diamond over here than growing a waratah...)

Best wishes from Germany from Regina.

Don't feel too bad about failing to grow a waratah in Germany - there are plenty of Australians who haven't succeeded either. Myself included! I've managed to keep one alive for several years but it shows no sign of growing, let alone flowering.

It is indeed a magnificent plant with some excellent cultivars now being produced.

Regarding the translation of the aboriginal name "waratah".... I'm not sure that there is a translation as such..."waratah" was just the name given by local aborigines to this plant.

Brian Walters, Editor


[Front Page] [Features] [Departments] [Society Home] [Subscribe]

Australian Plants online - March 2001
Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants