Where and When to find wildflowers.

Saturday, May 31, 2014 at 17:48

Member - John and Val


Australia boasts such a wonderful array of native flowering plants that in most places it’s possible to find at least some wildflowers. But it’s a big country, so it’s best if we can narrow our search down to those really special places where there is a good chance of finding abundant native plants in flower.

So where to go to find wildflowers? Most national parks, reserves and even state forests will have some wildflowers. The SW corner of Western Australia is a world renowned “biodiversity hotspot” meaning that there are thousands of different native plants there. Many of them are unique with colourful and spectacular flowers. National Parks like the Stirling Ranges and Fitzgerald River NPs can produce breathtaking wildflower displays. Away from the tropical areas, other states have special places too. The sandstone country around Sydney is justly famous for its wildflowers, and there are many national parks to choose from like the Royal National, Blue Mountains, Ku-ring-Gai Chase, Dharug and Wollemi NPs. In Victoria the Grampians and Wilsons Promontory NPs put on wonderful spring displays, as do the Flinders Ranges in South Australia, and parks in southern Queensland like Girraween NP.

Surprisingly our desert areas can also produce magnificent wildflower displays, and given favourable weather conditions, most deserts will reward wildflower seekers with massed displays of colourful ephemerals. Following many of the iconic outback tracks – across the Simpson Desert, the Canning Stock Route, Anne Beadell Highway - will reveal splashes of colour in most years, and vast expanses of delight in really good years.

Then there are the wildflowers that flourish in cool high altitude areas. In the Snowy Mountains of NSW, and the Victorian and Tasmanian alpine areas there are beautiful, often delicate, wildflowers found only in those challenging environments.

There are wildflowers aplenty in tropical areas too, though in heavily forested areas flowers may be harder to find, often high up in the overhead canopy. But as if to compensate a myriad ferns, mosses and fungi are easily seen. Monsoonal areas like the Kimberley (WA) and Gulf country of the Northern Territory/ Queensland have their own rich array of native plants that includes many brilliant wildflowers.

Grasslands and rangelands are often overlooked as a place to enjoy wildflowers, but there are rewards for those with patience and sharp eyes. Native grasses, saltbush and bluebush themselves afford interest and variety, as well as providing habitat for many other small flowering plants that can make a subtle but beautiful show.

There are scores of national parks and reserves encompassing all of these habitats and more. So if you consult just about any guide to parks and reserves, it will point you to great places to find wildflowers.

However wildflowers are not confined to parks and reserves. While grazing and agriculture have depleted native plants across wide areas, small strips and pockets of native vegetation can still be found. Roadsides, even in built-up areas can still harbour unexpected treasures, and wide road verges (as in many parts of WA) greatly improve the chance of finding flowers. Reserves along beaches, rivers, streams and lakes often have native plants that are specially adapted to those particular environments.

Finally there are now increasing numbers of places in both public and private ownership where native plants are either protected or cultivated. There are botanic gardens like Kings Park in Perth or the National Botanic Gardens in Canberra in all major cities. Many regional towns have smaller scale but nonetheless impressive parks - like the Olive Pink Botanic Garden in Alice Springs. There are also arboreta and private reserves, all presenting opportunities to see wildflowers. Many of these places provide guided tours, a worthwhile starting point for those wishing to build their knowledge of native plants. Many towns now have public plantings of wildflowers, or sign-posted reserve areas or walking trails such as at Mullewa for enhanced wildflower viewing.

While there are plenty of places to go in search of wildflowers, it is important to get the timing right as well, as our native plants are exquisitely adapted to flower and set seed at times that best suits their survival.

Across the better watered parts of the country, roughly south of the 26th parallel, spring is the best time to find wildflowers. In the wildflower belt of Western Australia mass flowering starts in the north around mid to late August and gradually shifts southwards as temperatures increase. The extent and amount of flowering will depend on how much rain has fallen in the months before flowering. If planning a trip to this area it is advisable to watch a weather site like the Bureau of Meteorology - http://www.bom.gov.au/jsp/awap/rain/index.jsp for a few months prior to your trip to check that the areas you plan to visit have had enough rain to give a good flowering season. If the rainfall has been below average there will probably be fewer flowers, covering a less extensive area.

A similar pattern applies to the temperate parts of the east coast of the continent. In alpine or highland areas flowering will be delayed until the summer months.

Flowering in tropical areas will mostly be influenced by the annual monsoon rains. Some plants will flower during the wet season while others will continue well after the rains have finished. Flowering diminishes as the dry season progresses through the dry months of June to November.

Across desert areas rainfall tends to be unpredictable, but when rains do fall – as they do every now and then – expect a sudden and spectacular response as seeds stored in the ground burst into life, the plants completing their flowering and seeding cycle quickly before dry conditions return. It can be difficult to plan our travel to coincide with these events, but if you are fortunate enough to be travelling a few weeks after such rainfall, you should find memorable displays of wildflowers.

At a local level many native plants, like grass trees, are stimulated to flower by moderate fire, (although very intense fire will destroy plants entirely). While areas that have been burnt a few months previously may look superficially unappealing a closer look may reveal a wealth of new life and unexpected treasures. Some plants like the famous wreath plant from WA respond to soil disturbance, putting on superb displays along roadsides and in cultivated paddocks.

One word of caution: Australia has plenty of plants that are weeds. Most of these are not natives, but many can put on a pretty good flowering display. Examples include the infamous Pattersons Curse with its purple/blue flowers, and Capeweed with its yellow daisies. We’ll have more to say about these later.

For now, grab your camera, find a park, reserve or a bloomin' road verge, and as spring approaches good luck as you search for wildflowers.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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