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If you’ve been lucky enough to spot a flowering Gymea lily in the wild you might have wondered what was the deal with the giant red flower!
We break down what to know about the native Gymea lily…
Name: Gymea Lily or Doryanthes Excelsa; ‘Dory’ meaning ‘spear’, ‘anthos’ meaning ‘a flower’ and excelsa meaning ‘high’, ‘lofty’ or ‘distinguished’.
Its common name was given to the flower by the indigenous Eora people of the Sydney area.
Also known as: Giant lily, Flame lily, Spear lily, Illawarra lily.
Plant Family: Doryanthaceae
Discovered: The Gymea lily was first recorded in 1802 from a specimen collected by explorer George Bass.
Indigenous use: The Aboriginal people of the area roasted the young stems and roots of the plant for eating, and also used the fibres of the leaves to make brushes.
Location: Along the coast and in surrounding bushland near Sydney, New South Wales. More generally from Newcastle to Wollongong! Although only native to the Sydney regions, the plant will grow successfully in coastal climates from Brisbane to Perth.
Appearance: With a stem comprised of sword-like leaves, the apex of the long spike holds a 30cm head of brilliant red flowers often described as shaped like trumpets.
Height: The green stem of the Gymea lily is usually more than one metre long but once it flowers the flower spike takes the plant to up to six metres.
Flowering time: Flowering occurs in spring with seeds being released in late summer.
Interesting info: The Gymea lily is not only resistant to bushfire, it thrives on it. Rather than being ruined by intense bushfires, the plant will blossom profusely.
When growing the plant, simulation of bushfire is often used to encourage flowering. The plant is also drought resistant, with the growing points for the plant buried 30cm below ground level.
Bonus Fun Fact: The Sydney suburbs of Gymea and Gymea Bay are named after the lily.
Horticulture: The Gymea lily prefers soils derived from sandstone and do best in deep soil (they need at least half a metre to grow to their full height). They can be grown from seed but will not flower until around 8 years of age.
The plant needs to be kept well-watered and enjoys either full sun or only partial shade. Developing flower buds also need protection in areas of heavy frost.
The plant is often used in landscaping because of both its bold beauty and resilience. Including it in gardens will help to preserve the remarkable species.
Floristry: Unfortunately these beautiful flowers are not the most suitable for the cut flower market, largely because of their status as difficult and lengthy to cultivate.
Other Australian Natives to keep your eye out for;
• Waratah – remarkably similar in appearance, growing habits, and resilience, you could easily mistake the waratah for the Gymea lily!
• Banksia – commonly found in floral arrangements, the banksia is an iconic Australian flower with its flowering spike and conical shape.
• Eucalyptus – a favourite of koalas throughout the country, the Eucalyptus tree is a fundamental ingredient of the Australian bush identity. Spot them in the wild from their white, cream, yellow, pink or red flowers (or koala inhabitants).
• Bottlebrush – there are more 40 species of the well-known bottlebrush, all of which have the distinctive ‘bottlebrush’ shape, but in a variety of colours.
• Wattle – As the national flower of Australia, the golden wattle proudly displays our national colours of gold and green when in flower. It even has its own day, with September 1st recognised as National Wattle Day.