Rachel spent a couple of weekends walking ridge tracks along the valley edges this spring, seeing more beautiful flowers than you can shake a stick at. So here’s just a few that really caught her eye. Next time you’re in the Blue Mountains, maybe they’ll catch yours too.
Blue Mountains Flower Power
The Blue Mountains National Park is a beautiful and fascinating place. In 2000 it was just the 4th place in New South Wales to receive a UNESCO World Heritage listing. One of several reasons the park got this status was the epic diversity of habitats and plant communities within.
Specifically, it’s home to 152 plant families, 484 genera and around 1,500 species — yup, that’s a lot! Of those, 114 are endemic species and 177 are threatened species. So yeah, it’s special.
September through to December is the best time to get a real appreciation of just how diverse our native flora is because it’s literally in your face. No kidding, flowers everywhere.
Actinostus helianthi – Flannel Flower
The Flannel Flower plant is covered in soft, velvety hair, giving rise to its common name. It grows in sandstone heathland in coastal New South Wales and Queensland, and is commonly seen around the Sydney basin. It blooms all year long with a flourish of buds in the spring; it’s particularly abundant after bushfires. The Flannel Flower can grow up to a metre in height in good conditions but usually it’s much smaller and shrubby in appearance.
If you look closely, the flower heads are actually made up of a globe-like cluster of tiny flowers ringed by petal-like bracts. The more common flannel flower has a creamy white flower, while the ridge flannel flower is a delicate pink. I haven’t come across one in my travels yet but perhaps you will. Though the Flannel Flower looks similar to the daisy it is actually a species of the Apiaceae family, the same family as the carrot — who knew?
Fun Fact: Flannel flowers are the emblem of the Sydney Bush Walkers’ club and were chosen to be the NSW federation flower.
Conospermum taxifolium – Variable Smoke-bush
Conospermum is a genus of about 50 species and is in the family Proteaceae, the same family as the NSW Waratah. It gets its common name from its appearance during Spring when the Conospermum genus flowers in abundance and imitates the appearance of smoke from a distance.
Conospermum can be found in the woodlands and heath of Eastern Australia from south-east Queensland to Eastern Tasmania and from my experience you can find the Conospermum Taxifolium species all over the ridge tracks in Blue Mountains.
The Conospermum Genus has a very cool pollination method that, from time-to-time, KILLS INSECTS. When the flowers are open, the style (that’s the long stalk like thing in the middle) is compressed. When an insect lands on the flower the style flicks from one side of the flower to the other.
As the style brushes past the insect it collects pollen from other flowers and adds adhesive to the insect. The fertile anthers (those are the parts of the flower you see protruding out of some flowers covered in pollen) then explode and dust the insect with pollen. The force of that flick can kill small ants and flies.
So yeah, Conospermum is a stone cold killa.
Sowerbaea juncea – Vanilla Lily
This flower is commonly called Vanilla Lily due to its sweet scent, it’s part of the Asparagaceae family. It flowers in the spring and loves damp heath. Vanilla Lily can be found in sandy wallum heathland and sub-coastal and mountain heath communities of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Northern Tasmania.
These little beauties used to be found in large colonies in their native area, think whole fields of purple! However due to development most of these areas have disappeared. Generally it will grow near small shrubs and sedges and does not like to be overshadowed by taller plants.
The plants grow to about 40cm in height and the leaves are a bluey green and form large grass-like clumps, sort of like chives. The Vanilla Lily has edible tuberous roots and was routinely used as a food source by Indigenous Australians.
Kunzea capitata – Pink Buttons
This flower is commonly called Pink Buttons for a pretty obvious reason and is a shrub species in the Myrtaceae family. Flowers can be varying shades of pink and purple, or occasionally white, and protrude from the branch ends in heads. The species can be found in heath and open forest in central and northern New South Wales, possibly extending into south-east Queensland.
Like the variable smoke-bush, I have found pink buttons on all of my walks through heathland in the Blue Mountains. Seeing fields of the white and purple flowers in front of you as you peer out into the valley is quite a sight to behold.
Leptospermum – Tea Tree
Leptospermum or Tea Tree, is a genus of shrubs and small trees in the Myrtaceae family. Tea Trees are easily identified by their flakey, papery bark and five-petaled flowers. About 80 species of Tea Tree are endemic to Australia, many of them growing along the East Coast. They prefer dry sclerophyll forest, heath and scrub in sandy soil.
The name Tea Tree comes from early settlers who soaked the leaves of several species in boiling water to make a herbal tea. One of them was probably the Lemon Scented Tea Tree or Leptospermum petersonii which is easily identified by its strong lemon scent when its leaves are crushed. Nowadays Tea Trees are also cultivated to make Tea Tree Oil (shocker) and Manuka Honey (I actually didn’t know that one).
Tea Trees flower from late spring into early summer with white being the predominant flower colour, however there are some species that produce red or pink flowers. There is a red flowered Tea Tree found only around the Colo River and Upper Colo called Leptospermum spectabile which I one day hope to come across.
Two other hard to find beauties in the Greater Blue Mountains are Leptospermum Sphaerocarpum and Leptospermum macrocarpum, but i’ll leave it to you to identify those ones for yourself.
Patersonia longifolia – Dwarf Purple Flag
This delicate flower, commonly known as Dwarf Purple Flag, lasts barely a day. It’s a member of the Iridaceae family and is often referred to as the native Iris due to the family’s underrepresentation in Australia. It occurs on the coast and adjacent sandstone plateaus from near Sydney to Eastern Victoria with flower stalks that sprout from a small clump of leaves.
Although individual flowers open for less than a day during the springtime, many flowers are produced from the one stem so your chance of seeing the flower is not as slim as it might seem. Another cool thing about the Dwarf Purple Flag is that all plants in a single area will flower on the same day – now that’s impressive co-ordination.
Calytrix tetragona – Common Fringe Myrtle
The Common Fringe Myrtle is a member of the Myrtaceae family and has a dwarf to tall shrub-like appearance. It is widespread, growing in most parts of Australia and can withstand areas of high rainfall to semi-arid zones preferring heath, woodland and dry sclerophyll forest and skeletal and sandy soils.
The flowers range from white to pink and bloom during the springtime, however cool and moist conditions can extend its season up until December. The flowers have a beautiful pointed star-like appearance and the leaves, when crushed, have a spicy aroma.
Isopogon anemonifolius – Broadleaf Drumstick
The Broadleaf Drumstick (yes, you read correctly) is part of the Proteaceae family, the same as the variable smoke-bush and the NSW Waratah. There are 35 species in the Isopogon Genus and 7 of those can be found in the Greater Blue Mountains area, however some of them are rare or endangered.
The Broadleaf Drumstick is common along the coast and ranges of NSW, and grows in sandstone soils in woodland, open forest and heathland. It has easily identifiable flat fork-like leaves.
In the cooler months the leaves of the Broadleaf Drumstick become red, giving the flowers a beautiful red and green crown when they come through late in winter. Strangely enough, the species name was due to the resemblance of the leaves to anemones and you know what, I can see that. The flowers are about 15mm wide and appear from late winter all the way through to summer.
Pimelea linifolia – Slender Rice Flower
The Slender Rice Flower AKA Granny’s Bonnet or Queen-of-the-bush (I thought that was my title, but okay) is a part of the Thymelaeaceae family and is found in every state except WA and the NT. Pimelea is a genus of about 80 species, many of which have been given the name ‘Rice Flower’.
The Slender Rice Flower stands at approximately a metre tall and usually sprouts white flowers, however very pale pinks are occasionally seen. It flowers in spring and summer and prefers heaths and mountain forests.
Fun Fact: In the past, Indigenous Australians have made use of the Riceflower by stripping the bark to make a string. They would dry it, place it in a stream for about one week, dry it in the sun again, soften it by chewing/beating with sticks and stones then roll it on the thigh and spin into fine, strong thread. This thread would then be used to make nets to catch and then eat Bogong Moths during the summer when they are in their thousands.
Boronia floribunda – Pale Pink Boronia
The Pale Pink Boronia produces a mass of soft pink to white flowers in spring and early summer. It is a member of the Rutaceae family and there are estimated to be 16 Boronia species found in the Blue Mountains. The Pale Pink species grows in heath and dry sclerophyll forest on sandstone, almost exclusively in the Greater Sydney region.
Unlike most members of its family, the Boronia species is easily identified by its four-petaled flowers. If you’ve ever walked through the bush and smelled something delightful it could have been a Boronia. The fragrance from Boronias comes from the oil in its leaves and requires a sunny day to be released.
Dillwynia elegans – Eggs And Bacon Flower
The flower formerly known as Dillwynia floribunda var. teretifolia is commonly called the Eggs and Bacon Flower, or Parrot Pea, due to its colourful appearance. The Dillwynia genus is a part of the Fabaceae family and is endemic to Australia, occurring in all states except the Northern Territory.
The Elegans species grows on rocky sandstone ridges in heath to dry sclerophyll forest; and only in the area from Port Jackson to east of Rylstone — essentially the Greater Sydney area. Flowers appear from late winter to late spring and arise toward the ends of branches in clusters.
Telopea speciosissima – NSW Waratah
Last but certainly not least, the NSW Waratah – a member of the Proteaceae family. Waratah is the Australian Aboriginal name for the flower which was quickly adopted as its common name. The genus name Telopea means ‘seen from afar’, and if you’ve ever seen a wild Waratah you know exactly why. The species name Speciosissima translates to beautiful or handsome and well, obviously.
The NSW Waratah is native to the Sydney region, growing only within about 200km of the city. The shrubs can grow up to 5m in height and are found in dry sclerophyll forest primarily in sandy soils over sandstone in areas with moderately high rainfall. As with many native Flora, Waratah plants resist destruction by bushfires and regenerate from the rootstock with flowering recommencing 2 years after a moderate fire.
The Tip Of The Wildflower Iceberg
I’m going to wrap this all up now but I could go on forever, there are literally (LITERALLY) 1500 plant species for you to go find in the Greater Blue Mountains area (you better believe I’ll be hitting back with a part 2 next spring).
So the next time you get out there slow down a little, or stop altogether. Maybe even smell the roses… or the Vanilla Lillys. But do take care, stick to formed tracks and resist plucking flowers for home. Take some pictures instead and share them with your friends, or even the WAE community.
If we all got our citizen science on, I am willing to bet there are a few species out there still waiting to be discovered, just like the Wollemi Pine. It was only recently re-discovered in 1994 by the legendary David Noble and guess what its scientific name is… Wollemia nobilis.