Nepean Naval and Maritime Museum

- Museum Home - Nationhood Index - NAA Sub-Section Home -

State Floral Emblems

New South Wales - The Waratah

Telopea speciosissima

Telopea speciosissima, was proclaimed the official floral emblem of New South Wales on 24 October 1962.

Robert Brown (1773-1858) named the genus Telopea in 1810 from specimens collected in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.

Sir James Smith (1759-1828), a noted botanist and founder of the Linnaean Society in England, wrote in 1793:

'The most magnificent plant which the prolific soil of New Holland affords is, by common consent, both of Europeans and Natives, the Waratah. It is moreover a favorite with the latter, upon account of a rich honeyed juice which they sip from its flowers'.

The specific name speciosissima is the superlative of the Latin adjective 'speciosus', meaning 'beautiful' or 'handsome'. 'Waratah', the Aboriginal name for the species, was adopted by early settlers at Port Jackson.

The Waratah is a stout, erect shrub which may grow to 4 metres. The dark green leathery leaves, 13-25 cm in length, are arranged alternately and tend to be coarsely toothed. The flowers are grouped in rounded heads 7 to 10 cm in diameter surrounded by crimson bracts, about 5 to 7 cm long. It flowers from September to November and nectar-seeking birds act as pollinators. Large winged seeds are released when the brown leathery pods split along one side.

Tasmania - Tasmanian Blue Gum

illust: Marion Westmacott ©ANBG Eucalyptus globulus

The Tasmanian Blue Gum, Eucalypts globulus, was proclaimed as the floral emblem of Tasmania on 27 November 1962.

Eucalyptus globulus was first collected on the south-east coast of Tasmania in 1792-93 by Jacques-Julien Houton de Labillardiere (1755-1834) and was described by him in 1799. He was a distinguished French botanist who came with the French expedition in 1791-94 in search of La Perouse.

Labillardiere was a keen collector of plants and animals and also recorded detailed accounts of the appearance and customs of the Australian Aboriginals he observed. His plant specimens are now housed in the Museum of Florence.

Tasmanian Blue Gum is a tall, straight tree growing to 70 metres in height and 2 metres in trunk diameter under favourable conditions. The rough, deeply furrowed, grey bark is persistent at the base of the trunk but it is shed above this level in strips, leaving the branches smooth-barked. The broad juvenile leaves, borne in opposite pairs on square stems, are about 6 to 15 cm long and covered with a blue-grey, waxy bloom. This is the origin of the common name 'blue gum'. The cream flowers are borne singly in the leaf axils and produce copious nectar which tends to yield a strongly flavoured honey. Eucalyptus globulus subsp. globulus occurs in tall open forest in south-eastern Tasmania and to a lesser extent along the eastern coast.

Queensland - Cooktown Orchid

illust: Marion Westmacott ©ANBG Dendrobium phalaenopsis

When Queensland prepared for its Centenary in 1959, it sought advice on native species suitable as a floral emblem.

The species suggested were Cooktown Orchid, Red Silky Oak ,Umbrella Tree and the Wheel of Fire.

A Brisbane newspaper, the Courier-Mail, sought additional suggestions from its readers and finally compiled a list of thirteen species.

In a public poll for the most popular choice as floral emblem, 'the Cooktown Orchid, Queensland's own world-famous hybrid orchid’, came out thousands of votes ahead of the others.

On 19 November 1959 the Cooktown Orchid, under the botanical name of Dendrobium bigibbum var phalaenopsis, was proclaimed as the floral emblem of Queensland. The correct botanical name for the Cooktown Orchid has been the subject of continuing speculation and debate.

It did however conform with the Government's criteria in being an easily cultivated native species confined to Queensland, decorative and distinctive in appearance, and coloured close to the State colour, maroon.

The common name, Cooktown Orchid, refers to the northern Queensland town of Cooktown, on the Endeavour River, named by Captain Cook after he repaired his ship there in 1770.

Victorian - Common Heath

illust: Marion Westmacott ©ANBG Epacris impressa

Representatives of interested Victorian government departments, societies and individuals met on 18 September 1951 and unanimously agreed on Common Heath as the State floral emblem.

The pink form of Common Heath, Epacris impressa, was proclaimed the floral emblem of Victoria on the 11th of November 1958.

Victoria was the first Australian State to give official recognition to such an emblem.

Common Heath was collected in Tasmania in 1793 by the French botanist, Jacques-Julien Houton de Labillardiere during his voyage with Bruny D'Entrecasteaux on the unsuccessful search for the missing explorer, La Perouse.

Common Heath occurs in coastal heathlands as well as in montane and sub-alpine areas. It is distributed from Clyde River, New South Wales to the Mt Lofty Ranges in South Australia. In Victoria it occurs in coastal regions and adjoining foothills, the Grampians and the Little Desert. It is also common in Tasmania.

Common Heath is depicted in the armorial ensign granted to Victoria on 28 March 1973 and recorded in the College of Arms, London. The current armorial ensign includes additions made to the earlier one, granted on 6 June 1910, from which the floral emblem is absent.

South Australia - Sturt's Desert Pea

illust: Marion Westmacott ©ANBG Swainsona formosa

Sturt's Desert Pea, Swainsona formosa, was adopted as the floral emblem of South Australia on 23 November 1961, using the name Clianthus formosus.

This species, a member of the pea family, Fabaceae, is confined to Australia, where it occurs in all mainland States except Victoria. The original collection was made in 1699 by William Dampier on Rosemary Island in the Dampier Archipelago where he collected a specimen from:

a creeping vine that runs along the ground ... and the blossom like a bean blossom, but much larger and of a deep red colour looking very beautiful.

This specimen is now housed in the Sherardian Herbarium, Oxford. The species was for many years included in the genus Clianthus now thought to be confined to New Zealand.

The common name, Sturt's Desert Pea, commemorates a notable explorer of inland Australia, as well as indicating the plant's habitat and family. Captain Charles Sturt (1795-1869) noted the occurrence of Swainsona formosa in 1844 while exploring between Adelaide and central Australia. Sturt's journal, Narrative of an Expedition into Central Australia, refers several times to the beauty of the desert pea in flower and the harsh nature of its habitat, noting that beyond the Darling River:

we saw that beautiful flower the Clianthus formosa in splendid blossom on the plains. It was growing amid barrenness and decay, but its long runners were covered with flowers that gave a crimson tint to the ground.

The genus name Swainsona honours Isaac Swainson who maintained a private botanic garden at Twickenham near London about the year 1789.

The specific name formosa is Latin for 'beautiful'. The original author of the species was the Scottish botanist, George Don (1798-1856).

Western Australia - Red and Green Kangaroo Paw

illust: Marion Westmacott ©ANBG Anigozanthos manglesii

Red and Green Kangaroo Paw, Anigozanthos manglesii was proclaimed the floral emblem of Western Australia on 9 November 1960.

It is one of about twelve species of the genus Anigozanthos which is restricted to the south-west of Western Australia.

The author of the genus was the French botanist Jacques-Julian Houton de Labillardiere, who was the first to collect the kangaroo paw near Esperance in 1792.

The generic name Anigozanthos is probably derived from the Greek 'anises', meaning 'unequal' or 'oblique', and 'anthos', meaning 'flower', in reference to the division of the floral extremities into six unequal parts.

The specific name, manglesii, honours Robert Mangles who raised the type specimen from seed in his English garden.

The common name, kangaroo paw, is derived from the appearance of the unopened cluster of flowers.

Red and Green Kangaroo Paw was introduced to England in 1833 and described in 1836 by the British botanist, David Don (1799-1841). Robert Mangles recorded his experiences in growing the species in letters to his brother, Captain James Mangles RN, an enthusiastic patron of the cultivation of Western Australian species in English horticulture. In 1839 he wrote:

'I have Anigozanthus Manglesii shewing for flower in the open ground where I put it in April'. In August he noted that 'Anigozanthus is progressing fast', and three weeks later Anigozanthus is now four feet high but has not yet expanded its flower. I am under some apprehension these frosty nights may destroy it'.

Northern Territory - Sturt's Desert Rose

Gossypium sturtianum

On 12 July 1961, Sturt's Desert Rose was proclaimed floral emblem of the Northern Territory by the Commonwealth Government which was then responsible for the administration of the Territory.

Proclamation was made using the name Cienfugosia gossypioides which is now replaced by the name Gossypium sturtianum var. sturtianum.

In an Executive Statement in June 1975, the Majority Leader in the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory confirmed this species as the floral emblem.

Since the granting of self-government to the Northern Territory in 1978, Sturt's Desert Rose has been incorporated into various insignia and so become symbolic of the region.

Sturt's Desert Rose has also been known as Darling River Rose, Cotton Rosebush and Australian Cotton. Although less widely used, the vernacular name, Australian Cotton, is appropriate as this species belongs to the genus Gossypium, which includes commercial cotton. However the hairs covering the seeds are much shorter than the lint of commercial cotton varieties.

The specific and varietal names, sturtianum, honour Captain Charles Sturt (1795-1869). The species was first collected by Sturt in the beds of the creeks on the Barrier Range during his journey to central Australia in 1844-45.

The specimens were placed at (the) disposal of the Scottish botanist, Robert Brown (1773-1858), who described and named the plant Sturtia Gossypioides in 1849. In Brown's opinion Sturtia is no doubt very nearly related to Gossypium.