You’ve probably seen this recognisable Australian native flower, especially if you live near Sydney, but we bet you don’t know all of these waratah facts!
The waratah’s botanical name is ‘telopea speciosissima’. It’s no surprise this mouthful is regularly passed over for its more common name, but its explanation makes a lot of sense with ‘telopea’ meaning ‘seen from afar’ (aptly named considering their size) and ‘speciosissima’ meaning ‘most beautiful’.
The name waratah comes from the Eora Aboriginal people, the original inhabitants of the Sydney area. It means ‘red flowering tree’
The waratah generally grows to 3 metres in height and although it looks like one flower it is in fact made up of many flowers joined into a head ranging from 6-15cm in diameter.
Indigenous Australian legends feature the waratah strongly, and European settlers also depicted them in artworks and pottery.
Indigenous people used the flower in a number of ways, including as a medicinal tonic for children and by infusing water with the flavour of the blooms to create a sweet drink.
It was one of the first Australian plants to be collected for cultivation in Europe as there were many near the first settlement.
This plant is native to south-eastern parts of Australia; New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania, but is most common in the Sydney area of NSW.
New South Wales made this bright red flower its state emblem in 1962. When a new version was unveiled in 2009 at the cost of $5,000, the beautiful flower got caught up in controversy with botanists pointing out that the government had instead used a picture of a lotus, the national flower of India.
The waratah used to be abundant in the Sydney metro area, but these days the species relies on cultivation in national parks and reserves. Although the flowers make a stunning addition to your home, it is best to let the ones you spot in nature continue to grow and admire them from afar!
The waratah naturally grows in sandy clay areas and are mainly pollinated by birds attracted to their brilliant colour and nectar.
There are a number of other species of waratah than the well-known version, with smaller and less impressive flowers. These include the Gibraltar Range Waratah, the Braidwood Waratah, the Gippsland Waratah, and the Tasmanian Waratah.
The waratah’s natural habitat is often subjected to fires, but the waratah is well prepared. It can regenerate from a ‘lignotuber’ – a rounded woody growth at or below ground level that contains a mass of buds and food reserves.
It is possible to grow waratahs at home but they should be planted 1.5 metres apart in a partially shaded area, and be watered regularly.
Waratahs flower over a six-week period in spring in the Sydney region and later in cooler areas.
The majority of waratah flowers are red and pink, with the size and shape varying. There is also a creamy yellow variety known as ‘Wirrimbirra White’
As the waratah is subject to a huge amount of variables, constant research is undertaken on commercial selection and development.
The waratah flower makes for an ideal cut flower as it is long lasting and has long straight stems, however, it hardly has any scent.
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