Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Friday, September 26, 2008

Waratahs - the true species and some Hybrids

In response to a comment yesterday from my fellow Aussie Nature Blogger "Mick" (from Sandy Straits and Beyond) I promised to show photos of more forms of Waratah. These are all either cultivars (selected varieties) of the true species - the NSW Waratah (Telopea speciossima) - or hybrids thereof. The hybrids are variously crossed with the Braidwood Waratah (Telopea mongaensis) or the Gippsland Waratah (Telopea oreades)

You can see some of the most readily available cultivars at the "Proteaflora" (commercial nursery) site. Click on the heading Telopea (Waratah) While not exactly recommending Proteaflora, they are certainly the largest grower of these plants (for plant sales), and have a huge distribution network through Nurseries and Garden Centres in the Eastern States. There are other growers, and some other hybrids and cultivars (selected natural varieties). In my opinion the most interesting cultivars are those selected by Paul Nixon, at Brimstone Waratahs.

Mick asked if Waratahs might grow on the coast in South-east Queensland. I cannot say, But I would always ask at a local nursery, or check whether you ever see any Waratahs growing in your local area. However, I might suggest as another possibility, the wonderful (related) plant, known as the Dorrigo Waratah (Alloxylon pinnatum). It is a true tropical (wet-temperate rainforest) plant. It normally grows at altitude, but if some shade and a moist gully type position could be provided, it might do well. They thrive out in the open in Robertson, but we are high and relatively cool here. This plant is part of the Proteaflora stock list, so any of the nurseries which carry their plants could order one for you. It is worth trying, as it has terrific bright green foliage, as well as bright red flowers. They are more open in flower form. It grows quite tall.

This is what I mean by praising the hybrid Waratahs for their prolific flowering. These plants are growing in "Pinkwood Park" in Robertson, cared for by volunteers on an occasional basis. The get an occasional feed, but they are not watered, or given any intensive care. Once the plants become established, they are pretty much on their own. I cannot say for sure, but judging by the age of these plants, they are probably "Shady Lady" which, historically, has been the most successful garden variety of hybrid Waratah. It has since been superseded by other similarly named varieties, SL Crimson, SL Red and SL White.

A word of warning re the white varieties of Waratah, the flowers are prone to burning in sunlight. Personally, I cannot see the point in white Waratahs, just as I cannot see the fascination in the search for a Blue Rose - but that's gardeners for you. Always in search of the new variety.
Here is an individual plant. I could not bother to try and count the number of flowers it is carrying. It is a truly spectacular plant.Here is the flower of this particular plant. Perfectly lovely in its own right. The hybrids tend to have smooth edges to their leaves, not serrated, as the NSW Waratah does. Also, the bracts tend to be smaller than the true species. But in terms of reliability and form, it is a great garden plant.Here is a photo of a new hybrid plant "Red Shady Lady", which has probably been "back-crossed" between the original "Shady Lady" and the true Telopea speciosisima. It is an improvement on the original "Shady Lady" hybrid which tended to be a bit pinkish in its flower colour. This hybrid has better colour, good bracts, and still maintains "hybrid vigour".This plant is growing in my garden, and is in its third year. It probably has 30 flowers on it. The photo was taken just as a rain storm arrived, one evening - hence the wet spots.
To show you the variations available in the modern Waratahs, here is an unknown hybrid growing in Pinkwood Park, which is a compact bush, and it has relatively small flowers. There are certain advantages in having a small plant, as, in places like Robertson (with both strong winds, and very friable soil), it means they are less susceptible to wind damage, such as "wind rock" - where the roots are disturbed by movement of the plant because of wind. Unfortunately I cannot tell you the name of this variety. I do know that it is a hybrid Waratah, however, from the smooth leaves.Finally, as an extreme example of the variation available in the NSW Waratah cultivars. I am not sure of the name of this plant, but looking at the huge bracts, and the pale colour of the florets in the centre, it might be "Brimstone Pink". This plant will open with huge flowers. I will keep an eye on this plant and photograph it as the flowers mature.


mick said...

Thanks for a very interesting post. I shall certainly be asking around at some local nurseries.

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Mick,
I forgot to mention that the Dorrigo Waratah flowers at Christmas time.
Very popular with flower arrangers for the seasonality of bright green leaves and flame red flowers.
I searched high and wide for any photos I might have taken in previous years, but apparently there are none. So I shall have to fix that problem this December.

Duncan said...

A wonderful genus Denis, thanks for the photos, spectacular.

Jarrett said...

Excellent photographs! Good luck keeping up with all the explosions of flower in this belated spring!

You might enjoy some recent botanical explorations of New Caledonia over on my blog.

Denis Wilson said...

Thanks, Duncan.
Hi Jarrett, Good to have you pop up again. Love your observation of dead and dying ferns. I have added your blog to my self-updating list of Aussie Nature Blogs, so I and others can easily keep up with your future postings.
Phil Gleeson is in an interesting environment about which I know very little. I will track his blog too. Thanks for letting us know about his work.