1 June, 2017   By: Courtney Pearson

You hardly need to head far out of Perth to start experiencing the wonders of WA’s world-class wildflowers and some of their unusual behaviours too.

Two years ago, Cathy Walsh from Lyndon Station, nearly 300km north east of Carnarvon, spotted a small lily she had never seen before growing in waterholes on the station.

A keen amateur botanist, Walsh knew what had been found was something unique and called the WA Herbarium.

“She sent me a picture asking, ‘What on earth is it?’,” says botanist Rob Davis of the WA Herbarium.

“She brought some plants down in a bucket of water and drove them down for us, so she really went above and beyond. Once we saw them we knew they had to be a new species.

“It turned out to be a quite an unusual one in the sense that there had been none of that particular group of plants found anywhere near there,” he said.

“That was a great discovery.”

Pink and yellow Western Australian wildflowers
Wildflowers near Coral Bay. Credit: Greg Snell
It is one of around 50 new species of wildflowers identified in WA made every year, usually first by eagle-eyed enthusiasts and then validated by Davis’s team.

“Quite often you discover things when you examine them under a microscope and find things that make it different, like hairs or different coloured shapes on the flower.

“When you see something in the field and know instantly, that’s the real delightful moment. It’s sheer euphoria,” he says.

Rare and beautiful
Our wildflowers are global phenonema. Between 60 to 70 per cent of WA wildflowers are not found anywhere else in the world. Found between June and September every year, thousands of different varieties carpet paddocks and nestle between rocks all the way from the Pilbara to the southern coast of WA, around 2.5 million square kilometres. Hot spots include Geraldton’s Coalseam Conservation Park, Mount Lesueur National Park, the South West Capes, Stirling Ranges and Fitzgerald National Park.

“You can stop at the side of the road and within that 10m square area you can see maybe up to 60 species,” says Davis.

“The richness in some areas is incredible.

“In our south, the Fitzgerald River National Park alone contains more species of flowers than the entire UK,” says Davis.

“You could travel around the south west for years and still not see every species of orchid.”

Purple flowers on a rocky outcrop
Dirk Hartog Island National Park. Credit: Tourism Western Australia
As well as sheer numbers, WA’s wildflowers are famed for the their uniqueness, both in design and behaviour. Some are insectivorous (they ‘eat’ insects), some only flower underground, and others only flower at night. One particular plant is nicknamed the “sensitive plant” because its leaves close when touched, as if it’s shy.

“Everlastings are just a small component of the landscape view,” says Davis.

Here’s a list of some of Davis’s favourite wildflowers, from the rare to the unusual. If you spot something you’ve never seen before, “please take a photograph and send it to us at the WA Herbarium,” says Davis. 

Weird and wonderful

Wildflower Drakaea glyptodon
Almost like a siren, this sly bloom lures males for its own benefit. 

The tricky Drakaea glyptodon is as seductive and deceptive as they come. Its enticing pheromone-like scent lures flying male thynnine wasps to mate with it in order to pollinate itself. The male wasps believe the flower itself is the flightless female wasp, and the momentum of the male trying to fly off with the female causes the reproductive parts of both wasp and orchid to come into contact. The flower’s perfume is so powerful that it even causes fights, with wasps scrambling over each other to mate with the false female.

 

Wildflower Cephalotus follicularis
This innocent-looking flora eats insects alive. 

The Cephalotus follicularis, or Albany Pitcher Plant, is a curious plant found in the South West that is insectivorous in nature. That is, this little harmless-looking flower eats small insects to keep itself alive. Its name stems from the shape of the leaf, which has been modified to form a pitcher and a lid above. The plant produces an odour to lure insects to its deadly trap, where they crawl inside then slide into an enzyme that dissolves and absorbs them.

 

Wildflower Ptilotus polystachyus
If you’re game, stay up late to watch these flowers bloom in the dark. 

Enthusiastic wildflower spotters can stay up late to watch the Ptilotus polystachyus flowers open in the dark. It was only recently discovered that this fairly common plant flowered at night, and keen night-owls can witness the sweetly-scented flowers bloom after the sun goes down. Moths are commonly found landing at the base of the flower, which is coated with pollen, before making their way up the stalk to, presumably, pollinate older flowers. Once near the top, they probe the ring of open flowers for nectar and drink.

 

Wildflower Stylidiums
Shoo, fly! Oblivious insects are swatted away by this flower’s trigger system. 

For the unsuspecting insect, Stylidiums, also known as Trigger Plants, can prove a startling encounter. As soon as an insect lands in the centre of the flower, the touch-responsive plant reacts dramatically as if to shoo the bug away. The plants have four petals with a ‘style’ (the stalk that connects the stigma to the ovary) that’s on a trigger system. When an insect lands in the zone the tightly-coiled trigger snaps forward to knock the insect away from the flower, coating the insect in its pollen. These The plants pollinate through this sensitive trigger, which acts as both male and female reproductive organs.

Few and far between

Wildflower Grevillea bracteosa
This threatened species can be found north and east of Geraldton. 
Grevillea bracteosa contains two subspecies, both considered threatened. Large compact shrubs to two metres high, they flower in spring and produce long slender branches bearing light pink inflorescences with each flower subtended by broad, coloured leafy bracts. Grevillea bracteosa subsp. howatharra can be found just north and east of Geraldton. 


Wildflower Eucalyptus rhodantha subsp. rhodantha
Don’t confuse this rare beauty with another similar species, Eucalyptus macrocarpa.
Eucalyptus rhodantha subsp. rhodantha is a broad spreading mallee to four metres high, with silvery-grey leaves and large red pendulous flowers several centimetres across. Found in the lower Mid-West region around the Watheroo and Three Springs areas. Often confused with another similarly striking species, Eucalyptus macrocarpa. 


Wildflower Ptilotus pyramidatus
This tiny herb was thought to be extinct until it was spotted a few years ago.
Ptilotus pyramidatus is only known from one population in the Perth region, and up to a few years ago was thought to have been extinct as it hadn’t been collected or seen for 140 years. A small perennial herb to 10 centimetres high, with a rosette of spatulate leaves at the base of the plant, it produces soft, hairy white-pink spikes in late spring.


Wildflower Brachyscias verecundus
Fire is the only thing that brings this species to life. 

The rare Brachyscias verecundus is a small annual that only reaches a few centimetres high. It has pale green cross-shaped flowers seen in late spring and occurs in a couple of populations in the Northcliffe area. A fire-stimulated species, it only appears a couple of years after a fire, after which the seed lays dormant in the soil until the next blaze. Verecundus is Latin for modest or shy, which refers to its size and as it’s only seen after a fire. Brachyscias verecundus belongs to the same family as celery and carrots.

RAC Season for a Reason 2018 Wildflower Calendar Facebook competition

We’re so blooming proud of our state’s wildflowers that we’re designing the RAC Season for a Reason 2018 Wildflower calendar – entirely made up of wildflower pictures sent in from our members.

We have twelve gorgeous months up for grabs. The best entry will feature on the cover and score a $1,000 RAC Travel voucher*.

Calendars will be available to purchase from all Member Service Centres from mid-November 2017, with all profits from sales going to the Department of Parks and Wildlife to help protect and conserve future blooms.

Find out more about our wildflower calendar competition.

*Terms and conditions apply. See competition information page.

Check out our favourite wildflower hotspots around WA, self-drives through the State's key wildflower regions plus guided tours.

See our wildflower hub

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