Australian Natives

With over 25,000 species of flowering plants, Australia is only matched by South Africa in the abundance and diversity of its native flowers. There are so many flowering plants in Australia that they haven’t even named them all yet – some botanists estimate there are over 30,000 species. Many of these are endemic, which means they are found nowhere else. Native flowers have been used to decorate Australian homes since settlement, but became more popular during Federation (1901) and the Bicentennial celebrations (1988). Now many forms are used as cut flowers, both locally and internationally.

All states throughout Australia are home to distinctive native flowers, but Western Australia is the centre for this amazing diversity. There are over 12,000 species listed as endemic to WA, and many more are yet to be described. Many of the native flower species commonly used as cut flowers originated in WA, such as kangaroo paw, most Banksias, Dryandra, Geleznowia, and Geraldton waxflower. The wildflower season in WA occurs each year from July to October, and is considered one of the top botanical wonders of the world. Flowers start blooming north of Geraldton in July and slowly progress south. There are many reserves and bush areas along the coast and east into the drier areas, and in some places there are fields of everlastings and other wildflowers as far as you can see. The Wildflower Society of Western Australia website is full of information and has a great map of viewing locations around Perth for those who are interested.

Main Varieties and Uses

There are about 30 species of Australian native flowers and foliages commonly used in floristry (see Table 1). Many more are used occasionally as supplies are seasonal or can only be found in certain regions, but the most common are: Geraldton waxflower, Banksia, Kangaroo Paw, Thryptomene, Boronia and Waratah.

Large single flowers (sometimes called standards) or flower spikes are rarely found in the Australian flora, and most native cut flowers are branches with many small flowers that are used as fillers. The Geraldton waxflower is probably the most popular branched filler, and is used in bud or when flowers are open. Other common native fillers are Thryptomene, from Victoria, Crowea, Eriostemon, Hypocalymma, Ixodia, Riceflower and Verticordia. Many Australian species are also used as foliages, particularly Eucalyptus, Acacia, Grevillea, Persoonia (Snottygobble) and Xanthorrhea (Steel grass).

There are also a few natives used as focal flowers – large colourful flowers that form the centrepiece in arrangements in the same way as roses or tulips. Commonly used native focal flowers include Banksias, Waratahs, the huge Gymea lily, Christmas Bells, and to a lesser extent, Kangaroo Paw.

Some South African flowers are often mistaken for Australian natives, which is not surprising as these two countries have very similar climates and the flowers of each country are similar in structure. Proteas, Leucadendron, Leucospermum and Erica are all South African natives that are sometimes mistaken for Australian locals. The tea-tree (Leptospermum) is also often thought of as Australian, which many garden tea-tree varieties are. But the most common cut flower tea-trees are bred from Leptospermum scoparium, which is a New Zealand species.

Flower Care

Most native flowers have woody stems and these will need to be re-cut with sharp secateurs, and immediately placed in water. Never bash or split the woody stem ends. As a general rule, keep cool whenever possible – there are no tropical Australian natives used regularly as cut flowers. Strip all the leaves from the lower half of each stem, then recut at least 2 cm off each stem and place in cold water immediately. A preservative is recommended, but not essential. It is important to replace vase water with fresh preservative every day as all natives are thirsty flowers.

Most native flowers are not sensitive to ethylene gas, but there are two notable exceptions. Waxflower and Waratah are both sensitive, so keep them away from fruit, car exhausts and cigarette smoke.

For more specific flower care instructions, see All Flowers.

State Floral Emblems

Each state and territory in Australia, and the nation, has selected an endemic Australian native flower as its emblem:

Australia Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha)
ACT Royal Bluebell (Wahlenbergia gloriosa)
New South Wales Waratah (Telopea speciosissima)
Northern Territory Sturt’s Desert Rose (Gossipium sturtianum)
Queensland Cooktown Orchid (Dendrobium phalaenopsis)
South Australia Sturt’s Desert Pea (Swainsonia formosa)
Tasmania Tasmanian Bluegum (Eucalyptus globulus)
Victoria Common Heath (Epacris impressa)
Western Australia Red & Green Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos manglesii)

Only two state emblems can be easily found as cut flowers: the Waratah (NSW) and the Red and Green Kangaroo Paw from WA. The national floral emblem Acacia pycnantha can sometimes be found as a ‘flowering foliage’ crop in spring.