Red waratahs (telopea speciosissima), which need plenty of air circulation and, ideally, protection from the hot afternoon sun.
Red waratahs (telopea speciosissima), which need plenty of air circulation and, ideally, protection from the hot afternoon sun. iStock

Showy native plant worthy of its floral emblem status

Australia is blessed with many beautiful flowering plants, and telopea speciosissima is one of the most spectacular of all. Perhaps that is why it is the floral emblem of New South Wales.

The name telopea is derived from the Greek telopos, meaning seen from afar, and refers to the great distance from which the crimson flowers are visible. The specific name speciosissima is the superlative of the Latin adjective speciosus, meaning beautiful or handsome.

Telopea are commonly known as waratahs. This is the Aboriginal name and it was adopted by the early settlers at Port Jackson and remains in common usage.

The telopea Shady Lady series are a hybrid form, a cross between telopea speciosissima and telopea oreades. They only grow to about 3m, and have large flowers in pink, crimson, red, yellow and, of course, white. Their long-lasting flowers appear from late winter into spring, and attract nectar-seeking birds. The red and crimson forms make a spectacular windbreak. The leaves are large and leathery, and may have irregular serrations on the edges. The new growth on the dark flowering forms often has some dark tones.

Like their South African cousins the proteas, waratahs make a great cut flower and are grown commercially for this purpose.

If you would like to grow a waratah, you will need a site with good drainage, plenty of air circulation and, ideally, protection from the hot afternoon sun. If your drainage is not as good as it could be, create a mound or raised bed, but be sure to break up the existing soil first so the new soil can be incorporated with the old.

Mulch well to help keep the soil moist, reduce weed growth and keep the surface roots cool. Waratahs are not as drought tolerant as some other native plants, so you'll need to water during particularly hot or dry spells.

Waratahs respond well to pruning, which encourages flowering and keeps them looking good. You can cut the flowers to enjoy indoors or leave them on the plant until they are spent. When you do prune, take off about half of the flowering stem. Don't prune the non-flowering stems because they are next year's flowers.

Shady Lady waratahs are well suited to many garden styles, and thanks to their compact size there is room for one even in the smallest of gardens.

Got a gardening question? Email maree@edenatbyron.com.au



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