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Wild about Australian flowers

From June to December, 12,000 species of wildflowers bloom in Western Australia, billed as the Wildflower Capital of the World

Ronan O’Connell on 01 Dec 2019

The Straits Times


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Western Australia is famed for its extraordinary natural scenery - from old-growth forests to vast deserts, flawless beaches and dramatic gorges.


While these are etched permanently on the landscape, some of the state's most beautiful assets appear and then disappear each year.


Since my childhood growing up in Perth, I have adored the spectacle of the wildflower season. Yet so often, my admiration was done from a distance. I glanced at wildflowers as I walked, jogged, cycled or drove past them.


Only now, as I am taking my time and doing close-up photography with the recent purchase of a macro lens, am I witnessing the true intricacy and vibrancy of the wildflowers


I have not even had to leave the city, either.


Adjoining the Perth Central Business District, King's Park and Botanic Garden is a slice of wilderness in the heart of a modern metropolis of 2.1 million people. This 400ha park is home to more than 3,000 species of flora, many of them unique to this state.


Western Australia is billed as the Wildflower Capital of the World. The official Tourism WA website claims the state has more wildflowers "than anywhere else in the world".


Indeed, about 12,000 species of wildflowers bloom here, with more than 60 per cent found nowhere else on the planet.


These statistics are perhaps less of a shock when it is remembered that Western Australia is truly colossal. Covering more than 2.5 million sq km, it is almost 3,500 times the size of Singapore.


There are six months each year to cherish the wildflowers. The season begins in June in the far north of the state before gradually stretching to its southern tip and petering out in December.


The season lasts longest - nudging into early January - in the deep south-west in places such as Greater Beedelup National Park, Hamelin Bay, Blackwood State Forest, Windy Harbour, Bridgetown and Northcliffe.


All these spots are a 90-minute drive of one another, so they can be done as part of a trip south of Perth.


It is October as I am here in King's Park and Botanic Garden trying forlornly to mentally catalogue the endless blooms on display at the Western Australian Botanic Garden. This 17ha garden opened in 1965 and gives tourists a chance to get to know the state's wildflowers without needing to travel to far-flung locations.


Despite being only 2km from Perth's main shopping and entertainment precinct, once you are deep inside this densely vegetated garden, you can imagine that this is the Australian outback.


I am on a very specific hunt. There is something special I want to show a foreign visitor I am hosting. She loves kangaroos, so when I tell her that these Australian animals have their own native flower, her eyes widen with excitement.


The kangaroo paw is the floral emblem of Western Australia. It grows naturally in only one place on the planet - the south-west of the state. There are 11 species and the most famous is the red and green variety.


This unusual plant does look uncannily similar to the paw of the country's most iconic animal.


Then I see one. "It does, it does look like a kangaroo foot," says my friend.


While I understand her elation, I cannot quite explain my reaction. In my lifetime, I have seen more kangaroo paw plants than my memory can store. They grew in the forest near my childhood house. Yet they still have a profound effect on me.


It must be their symbolic status. There are several wildflowers that have greater significance to me, including the golden wattle. Like a bright yellow cotton bud, these flowers grow in dense clusters, coating the trees from which they bloom. This is the national flower of Australia.


"Wattle is ideally suited to withstand Australia's droughts, winds and bushfires. The resilience of wattle represents the spirit of the Australian people," the Australian Prime Minister's website explains.


"In recent times, the golden wattle has been used as a symbol of remembrance and reflection. On national days of mourning, for example, Australians are invited to wear a sprig of wattle."


Branches of golden wattle decorate the Australian coat of arms, surrounding the kangaroo and emu, the nation's animal icons.


Golden wattle can be found in Western Australia, including at the Botanic Garden in King's Park and Botanic Garden, but is not actually native to the state.


It was introduced many decades ago and now grows wild in Perth and throughout the south-west of Western Australia.


This corner of the state is particularly famous for its wildflowers, including these spots: Esperance, Boranup, Denmark, Walpole and Pemberton.


Further inland in the south, Hyden, Kalgoorlie and the Wheatbelt are all blessed with wildflowers. Moving north are hot spots such as Karijini National Park, Coalseam Conservation Park, Yanchep National Park, the Coral Coast and the Pilbara.


If you have time to stay only near Perth, you will still be spoilt for wildflower options.


There are King's Park, Bold Park, John Forrest National Park, Belu National Park, Walyunga National Park and Araluen Botanic Park, each of them within an hour's drive of the city centre.


And if you miss this year's bloom, just wait a few months. Western Australia's wildflowers like to build some suspense before launching their new season each June.


• The writer is an Australian journalist and photographer who splits his time between Ireland and Asia.


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.



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