WARATAH (Telopea speciosissima)
Waratahs belong to the genus Telopea, in the Proteaceae family.
In 1793 the English botanist, Sir James Smith, wrote in a publication "The most magnificent plant
which the prolific soil of New Holland affords is, by common consent of Europeans and natives, the Waratah."
Aborigines used the seeds of several species as a source of food. Some species are toxic.
The original Waratah is native to a small area of the central coast of New South Wales, and it grows wildly in hilly areas near
Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong, and on the slopes of the Great Dividing Range, whilst other species grow in Victoria and Tasmania.
Proclaimed the official floral emblem of New South Wales on 24 October 1962.
It is a slender, erect shrub, to 3 metres tall and about 1.5 metres across. It has stiff, wedge-shaped and usually coarsely toothed, dark green, leathery leaves to 15 cm long. In cultivation they can grow to about twice the size.
The NSW species normally flowers red, but many produce pink or even white flowers. A rare white-flowering form, ‘Wirrimbirra White’, is occasionally available from specialist growers.
The large, bright crimson flowerheads consist of many small flowers densely packed into conical or peaked dome-shaped
heads to 15 cm across, and surrounded by a collar of large red, smooth bracts. The ‘flower’ is in fact a conflorescence
that comprises, depending on the species, as many as 240 individual flowers. It flowers during spring, October to November.
It is a bird-attracting plant, providing large quantities of nectar for a variety of honeyeaters.
A spectacular garden plant.
Magnificent cut flower, lasts well in water.
It is grown in some areas as a commercial crop for cut flowers. Increasing exploitation has led to the Waratah being declared a protected plant, and much attention has been given to developing it as a commercial cut-flower.
Waratah plants resist destruction by bushfires, sprouting freely from the rootstock shortly after its aerial growth is
killed by a fire, flowering within two to three years.
Plants are long-lived and seemingly permanent - although fertile seeds are freely produced, young seedlings are seldom to be found in the bush.
These plants are most particular in their requirements as they are very subject to root rot.
Grow in deep, sandy, extremely well drained soil, friable and of good texture, but not highly acid. A mulch of leaf mould or compost is beneficial and will keep roots cool in summer. If adding other soil to the site, always incorporate it into the existing soil, building a raised bed or mound.
Cold to semi-tropical. Moderately frost resistant.
Adaptable to various situations. Suitable for either full sun or dappled shade.
Waratahs flower better in full sun, but must be protected from strong, hot westerly winds.
Water liberally during spring and early summer when new growth develops but once established it can withstand dry periods.
Water during hot or dry spells. Never let the soil dry out completely.
Responds well to application of light to moderate application of fowl manure, blood and bone, other organic or slow release general purpose fertiliser in spring to established plants only, followed by liberal watering.
Prune back as soon as flowering has finished to ensure good flowering in the following season. Some pruning is achieved by cutting flowers. Pruning also overcomes the natural tendency of the shrub to develop a straggly shape.
Seed or cuttings.
Waratahs can be grown from cuttings but the more usual way is from seed. Fresh seed germinates in 2-3 weeks after sowing.
Sow seeds in a coarse sandy mixture and transplant seedlings into individual pots of similar soil. Fresh seeds germinate readily but the seedlings are prone to fungal disease, ‘damping off’, which may be reduced by exposing the seedlings to full light. Some shading is necessary after transplanting. Water every few days until fully established, but avoid water-logging.
Allowing seed to set is not recommended as it saps a lot of strength from the plant.
Stem or flower bud borer.
Failures usually result from the effects of unsuitable soil conditions, aspect or climate.
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