Desert blooms in Australia

Desert blooms in Australia
Kings Park & Botanic Garden in Perth showcases the wildflower treasures of the Southwestern region,

Also called the golden outback, the Southwestern region has a glorious annual wildflower season

March 26 , 2014
03 Min Read

Think edge of the desert and dry, red, granular sand — like vast Roland Garros clay courts stretching out as far as you can see. Not exactly where you’d expect to go looking for wildflowers? Think again.

In the southwestern corner of the Australian continent lies a wildflower realm that is variously called the ‘everlastings trail’, ‘golden outback’, ‘mulga shrublands’ or, more prosaically, the ‘Southwest Botanical Province’. The names have slightly shifting meanings, but they all denote a swathe of desert-fringe that harbours more species of flowering plants than almost any other place on earth.

The common everlasting or paper daisy (Rhodanthe chlorocephala) is the best-known flower of the region. They germinate with the first heavy rains in late winter and you can see their pink or white blossoms carpeting the red sands. In a sense, everlastings are just the tip of the iceberg, because there are nearly 13,000 species of flowering plants in this seemingly inhospitable place. (That’s nearly three-quarters of the number we have in the whole of the Indian subcontinent!)

So what makes this infertile region home to such diversity? There’s a range of answers that have to do with complicated things like soil chemistry and underlying rock, but the one that’s perhaps easiest to grasp is about time. Simply put, the Southwest is much, much older than the rest of the Australian continent because it wasn’t subjected to the pushes and tugs of mountain-building, glaciation and the ingress of inland seas. 250 million years of relative stability. Lots of time for evolution to unfurl a slow, steady accumulation of species. As these plants competed for limited resources in phosphate-poor, dry soils, it fuelled an even greater proliferation of species of annuals that survive only for a short, optimum time in the year. It’s not a good place for trees or large woody plants. But if you’re an ephemeral flower who’s willing to bask in a few weeks of ideal weather and then say goodbye, this is one of the best places to be.

Common everlastings or --paper daisies-- appear after the first heavy winter rains and rush through an accelerated life cycle before dying and leaving behind tough-coated seeds
Flowers of Acacia aneura or mulga, the distinctive wattle of the region
It--s comforting to find a plant that belongs to a family you can recognise -- this one is a Solanum from the brinjal family
A native Grevillea (of which there are more than 350 species and hundreds of cultivars in Australia) in the heathland near Enneaba
More flowers in the desert
Even eucalypts look out of place in mulga country -- territory meant for low shrubs and ephemeral flowers, not woody trees
A blue-tongued skink crossing a sandy, coastal road. It--s quite harmless but has a theatrical way of gaping and sticking its tongue out to frighten predators.
The Pinnacles are person-sized limestone formations on the coast in Nambung National Park. They are a sacred site for the Australian aborigines.
Walga rock, another aboriginal sacred site, is the second biggest monolith in Australia
Kings Park & Botanic Garden in Perth showcases the wildflower treasures of the Southwestern region. Definitely worth a visit.

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