Category Archives: Out And About

The Wildflowers Behind the Adorable Florables

Little bears are on a mission to Kings Park to find the wildflowers behind the Adorable Florables.

The vibrant floral costumes and dazzling personalities of the popular Adorable Florables have been on display in Kings Park every September since 2007. Through the flamboyant costumes and make-up, the Adorable Florables transform themselves into real-life representations of WA native species.

Little bears with Thinnid Wasp, Granny Bonnet, Kangaroo Paw, Silver Princess, Golden Wattle and Eva Everlasting

Before a WA native species is chosen to join the mischievous larger-than-life wildflower characters, each with a personality to match their bloom, quite a bit of research is done. The proposed character has to be distinctively West Australian and easily recognisable to the public, and its personality traits of the wildflower character have to reflect the real-life adaptations and characteristics of the native plant. A detailed character brief is created for each performer, so the actor can apply appropriate verbal and non-verbal techniques to the flower’s personality.

The Australian Everlasting is recognised as a symbol of the Kings Park Festival held in Perth each spring. Hundreds of thousands of people gather at the Festival every year to see the spectacle of more than 30,000 Everlastings in full bloom.

Pink Everlasting (Rhodanthe chlorocephala subsp. rosea)
Eva Everlasting

The pink everlasting daisy is a pretty, pink delicate flower with a sweet scent, so the character of Eva Everlasting is also sweet and slightly preening in personality, with a gentle, happy voice, light and floaty body gestures and a pretty pink costume.

The gift of winter rain to Western Australia’s harsh desert fringe brings a carpet of colourful and showy everlastings to life in early spring. Similar natural displays of floral colour, on a large scale, can be seen only in California and South Africa.

Pink Everlasting (Rhodanthe chlorocephala subsp. rosea)

The Red and Green Kangaroo Paw was proclaimed the floral emblem of Western Australia on 9 November 1960. It is one twelve species of the genus Anigozanthos which is restricted to the south-west of Western Australia.

Red and Green Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos manglesii)
The majestic Red and Green Kangaroo Paw surrounded by Adorable Florables

The majestic Red and Green Kangaroo Paw is an international ambassador of Australian flora and as such the character walks around with the dignity required by the role. Fresh and dried cut flowers are exported across the world with western Europe and Japan being the largest markets.

The Kangaroo Paw is a favourite with nectar feeding birds which often feed from the spectacular flowers. In its natural habitat Red and Green Kangaroo Paw flowers between August and October.

Little bears liked the pink Kangaroo Paw 🙂 It’s beary size!

Anigozanthos Pure Pink Kangaroo Paw

The Golden Wattle is the floral emblem of Australia. Although wattles, and in particular the golden wattle, have been the informal floral emblem of Australia for many years (for instance, it represented Australia on the Coronation gown of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953), it was not until Australia’s bicentenary in 1988 that the golden wattle was formally adopted as the floral emblem of Australia. In 1992, 1 September was formally declared National Wattle Day.

The Australian Coat of Arms includes a wreath of wattle; but it does not accurately represent a golden wattle. Similarly, the green and gold colours used by Australian international sporting teams were inspired by the colours of wattles in general, rather than the golden wattle specifically.

Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha)
Golden Wattle

The Golden Wattle is a shrub or small tree about 4 to 8 metres tall. After the seedling stage, true leaves are absent, their function being performed by phyllodes which are modified flattened leaf stalks lacking leaf blades. The leathery phyllodes are 6 to 20 cm long, broadly lance or sickle-shaped and bright green in colour. In spring large fluffy golden-yellow flower-heads with up to eighty minute sweetly scented flowers provide a vivid contrast with the foliage. While flowering can take place from July to November (late winter to early summer), flowering peaks over July and August. Each inflorescence is a ball-like structure that is covered by 40 to 100 small flowers that have five tiny petals (pentamerous) and long erect stamens, which give the flower head a fluffy appearance. The dark brown mature fruit, 7 to 12 cm long, splits along one side to release the seeds.

Orange Wattle or WA Golden Wattle (Acacia saligna)
Orange Wattle or WA Golden Wattle (Acacia saligna)

The Golden Wattle requires cross-pollination between plants to set seed. Birds facilitate this. Nectaries are located on phyllodes; those near open flowers become active, producing nectar that birds feed upon just before or during flowering. While feeding, birds brush against the flower heads and dislodge pollen and often visit multiple trees.

Several species of honeyeater have been observed foraging, including the Western Spinebill.

Male Western Spinebill (Acanthorhynchus superciliosus)
Female Western Spinebill (Acanthorhynchus superciliosus)
Little bears with the Adorable Florables in 2014 – The Western Spinebill, second from left, is holding Honey

The Western Spinebill occurs only in south-western Australia, mainly in the area north to Eneabba and east to Israelite Bay. It has a distinctive long, slender, down-curved bill. The male has an olive-grey crown with a white eye-brow and a black facial mask which is bordered below with a white stripe. The throat and upper breast are rufous, extending over the back of the neck as a collar; the lower breast has a white and a black band. The rest of the upperbody is olive-grey and the rest of underbody is cream. The female is duller, largely olive-grey above and cream below, with a diffuse pale eyebrow and a diffuse rufous collar, but lacks the black-and-white markings of the male.

Nectar is the main food of the Western Spinebill, obtained by probing flowers with its long, narrow beak. The species also takes insects, mostly caught while sallying in the air, or occasionally by pecking them from the surfaces of plants. Apart from the Golden Wattle, The Western Spinebill also feeds on Banksia, Grevillea, Adenanthos and featherflowers.

Eucalypts are another defining feature of Australia. To the uninitiated, most eucalypt species tend to look the same, and that can be excused, there are more than 700 species of eucalyptus and most are native to Australia. Apparently there are good features and clear characteristics to use in identification, mostly to do with leaf morphology. Unlike many flowers, the gum blossom doesn’t consist of petals. The colourful bloom is provided by the stamens, which attract pollinators such as insects or nectar-feeding birds. The petals are fused into the operculum, or cap (except in Angophora). While many gum blossoms are white, they come in a kaleidoscope of other colours, including sulphur, orange, vermilion, red, lime, purple and pink! Here is a link to an illustrated guide to some of the gum blossoms.

The Silver Princess (Eucalyptus caesia) is a mallee (woody plant that is multistemmed from ground level and seldom taller than 10 meters) of the Eucalyptus genus that is endemic to Western Australia. The name “silver” refers to the white powder that covers the branches, flower buds and fruit.

Silver Princess (Eucalyptus caesia subsp magna)
Silver Princess

The Silver Princess is an elegant and brilliant ornamental tree. It is a graceful, weeping tree with powdery blue-green foliage, a fascinating bark and unique pink or red flowers with yellow anthers. Flower buds hang on the tree for months and then flower from May through to September, soon followed by fruit (the gumnuts). The pendular, bell-shaped, silver coloured gumnuts extend the beauty and appeal of this very special tree through the summer.

Silver Princess (Eucalyptus caesia subsp magna)
Silver Princess gumnuts

Silver Princess is iconic West Australian flora, very sweet, loves herself and thinks everyone else loves her too!

There are 173 Banksia species, and all but one occur naturally only in Australia. South western Australia contains the greatest diversity of banksias, with 60 species recorded. There are no species which are common to eastern and western Australia except Tropical Banksia (Banksia dentata). The Scarlet Banksia occurs close to the south coast of Western Australia.

Scarlet Banksia (Banksia coccinea)
Little bears with the Adorable Florables in 2013 (before clothes and before Jay!) – Thynnid Wasp, Banksia, Queen of Sheba Orchid and Silver Princess

The Scarlet Banksia is widely considered one of the most attractive Banksia species.

The flower heads are made up of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of tiny individual flowers grouped together in pairs. The colour of the flower heads usually ranges from yellow to red. Many species flower over autumn and winter. The fruits of banksias (called follicles) are hard and woody and are often grouped together to resemble cones (which they are not, true cones are produced only by conifers).

A Western Spinebill resting on Scarlet Banksia (Banksia coccinea)

There are 283 known species of cycad (tree) worldwide with 76 species in Australia, seven species in Western Australia. The Zamia cycad is endemic to Western Australia. This plant is slow growing and the trunk of older plants can be up to one metre high, but are more often trunkless.

Zamia (Macrozamia fraseri)

One of the fascinating things about Cycads is the way they reproduce. They’re dioecious, which means that male (pollen) and female (seed) cones are born on separate plants. Once fertilised, the female cone of the Zamia cycad produces vibrant red seeds which are poisonous to humans, as Dutch explorers found to their cost when they first set foot on Perth soil in 1697.

Female cone of the Macrozamia fraseri
Zamia (Macrozamia fraseri) – male plant
Little bears with the Adorable Florables in 2014 – The Zamia Cycad Warrior, in the middle, is holding Puffles

Cycads are a great substitute for palms, where you want a good crown without the height of the trunk. In fact they’re often mistaken for palms or tree ferns.

Ancestors of the cycad existed 250 million years ago, before the age of the dinosaurs. It’s tough sharply pointed and leathery fronds protected the plant from grazing dinosaurs. Often these plants bear the blackened marks of a fire on their trunks – a testament to their hardy nature. A warrior plant indeed!

The Granny Bonnet is a short lived plant that is very common after bushfires, but usually quickly overwhelmed by hot dry weather or taller vegetation, leaving only odd plants in later years to germinate in open locations. They are a very pretty small plant with large (around 2 cm) brightly coloured flowers, which stand erect on long stems (5-30cm). The shape of the flower gives it the common name of Granny Bonnets, but it is also known as Lamb Poison and may contain poisonous toxins in order to discourage grazing animals.

Granny Bonnets (Isotropis cuneifolia)
Granny Bonnet

Granny Bonnets are distinguished from other Isotropis species by their long tapering cuneate leaves and the single flower on a long stem. As the plant grows it sets new flowers, so the flowering period can run for several months usually beginning in July and continuing until November, or the start of hot weather.

Granny Bonnets (Isotropis cuneifolia)

The veins on the back of the flower are very striking – it must be one of the very few plants which have evolved to have flowers which look even better (to humans) from the back than the front.

Granny Bonnets (Isotropis cuneifolia)

She is regarded as royalty, her hideouts are closely-guarded secrets and in August each year, her fans roam far and wide in the hope of catching a glimpse of her. It’s usually a two week window from the day that it flowers. She’s the elusive Queen of Sheba orchid.

There are three regional sub species of the orchid: thelymitra pulcherrima, thelymitra variegate and thelymitra speciosa, all occurring in Western Australia. They are distinguished mainly by flower colour and distribution, but there is considerable variation on colour in all three species. In the wild, sites are shrouded in secrecy to protect the Queen, and other native orchids, from being trampled or stolen. However, habitat clearing and degradation, from slashing, herbicide use and fire, are bigger threats to orchid populations than theft.

Queen of Sheba (Thelymitra variegata)

The orchid, which is characterised by its spiral leaves, takes between seven and ten years to flower. The Queen of Sheba grows leaf by leaf, year by year, and needs the perfect conditions to fully form, a lucky combination of perfect timing, perfect soil and perfect pollination. All orchids start their first years as small protocorms, basically a leaf attached to a very small tuber. Each summer they go dormant, to a tuber, then each year they grow back again, putting up little curly leaves. After seven to ten years, they might put up a flower spike. Hopefully, one day soon they will be in display in Kings Park.

They are known as “Sun Orchids” because the colourful flowers of most Thelymitra species only open fully on warm, sunny days. The rest of the time they stay closed. This encourages pollinators to visit in large numbers during one event, increasing the likelihood of depositing pollen from a neighbouring Queen of Sheba.

Queen of Sheba Orchid (Thelymtra speciosa)
Queen of Sheba
Little bears with the Adorable Florables in 2013 (before clothes and before Jay!) – Thynnid Wasp, Banksia, Queen of Sheba Orchid and Silver Princess

Orchids are more intricate in terms of their interaction with their ecosystem than any other plants. They have relationships with below-ground fungi, to get nutrients and to germinate. Above-ground they form relationships with their pollinators. The Thynnid Wasp!

Most orchids are pollinated in the traditional way; they produce attractive flowers to advertise the presence of nectar, and when insects visit to drink the offering, they brush up against the pollen and transfer it.

About 30 per cent of orchids produce stunning flowers but then don’t go to the trouble of producing nectar, so visiting insects complete the pollination job without any reward. A few have taken the level of deception to an extreme, employing sophisticated sexual trickery – and Australian orchids are the queens of seduction.

About 250 species in some 10 genera of orchids are deceiving male insects – mostly wasps – into believing that they’ve found an elusive female. Hammer orchids, spider orchids, flying duck orchids and elbow orchids all use the same devious approach.

Most Australian orchids that hoodwink hapless males in this way are pollinated by a group of wasps known as thynnines. The female wasps are dumpy, flightless creatures that spend much of their adult lives underground, laying eggs on beetle larvae in the soil. The males are fast-flying and large, with a wingspan of up to 5cm. Many thynnine wasps are black, but others are spectacularly coloured, with combinations of black, yellow, red and orange markings.

When a female thynnine is ready to mate, she crawls out of the ground and releases a pheromone to attract males. There aren’t many females around at any one time, so when one does come up, the males descend upon her in this massive scramble of wrestling wasps. The same happens with an orchid. A lone wasp picks up on an exciting scent. Instantly he zigzags, following the pheromone trail until he glimpses his target, 30cm away. Its allure is overwhelming. He flies straight at it and grasps it. But five other males have picked up the same scent, and they push and shove each other, competing to mate. With an orchid!

Once an orchid has lured a pollinator close, the colour of the petals and ultraviolet spots can make the flower hard to resist. When a male lands on the flower, its shape ensures he grips it in the right position to make contact with the pollen. Some orchids make absolutely certain the wasp does the job. The main lip of the flower of a hammer orchid is an insect-shaped blob hinged partway along. When the wasp grabs the flower, the momentum flips him upside down and whacks him into the pollen. Must be hillarious to watch! 🙂

Thynnid Wasp
Thynnid Wasp

Adorable Sunday

Mmmm… the Pink Everlasting is nice and soft… 🙂

Little bears with Thinnid Wasp, Granny Bonnet, Kangaroo Paw, Silver Princess, Golden Wattle and Pink Everlasting

Kings Park Wildflower Festival wouldn’t be complete without the Adorable Florables — mischievous larger-than-life wildflower characters each with a personality to match their bloom — who rove around the park on Sundays.

Pink Everlasting
Golden Wattle
Thinnid Wasp
Granny Bonnet
Silver Princess as Gumnut
The majestic Kangaroo Paw surrounded by Adorable Florables

The Adorable Florables are the brainchild of Kings Park Festival Director Jacqui Kennedy. In a move to educate and entertain the public, the team at the Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority has devised a series of characters representing the state’s native wildflowers. The golden wattle, Queen of Sheba orchid, pink everlasting, banksia and kangaroo paw are some of the native plant species portrayed by performers who don flamboyant costumes and make-up, transforming themselves into real-life representations of the species.

The costumes for the Adorable Florables are designed by Isaac Lummis, a Melbourne based costume designer and maker, whose body of work extends across a diverse range of performers and performance genres. He has designed costumes for dance, circus, theatre and festivals.

The Adorable Florables first appeared in 2007, and every year since. Between 2007 and 2009 they were known as the Wandering Wildflowers and in 2010 they became the Adorable Florables. In 2011 two new characters, Silver Princess and Western Spinebill Bird, were added to the group. In total, there are ten members of the Adorable Florables: Granny Bonnet, Queen of Sheba Orchid, Kangoroo Paw, Silver Princess, Zamia Cycad Warrior, Pink Everlasting, Banksia and Golden Wattle plus Thinnid Wasp and Western Spinebill Bird. All ten made a guest appearance at the Government House Garden Party, the official state reception for the royal visit to Perth on 28 October 2011 during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

The Adorable Florables are stunningly creative works of art.

Little bears with Thinnid Wasp, Granny Bonnet, Kangaroo Paw, Silver Princess and Pink Everlasting
Little bears with the Adorable Florables in 2014 – Pink Everlasting, Western Spinebill Bird, Queen of Sheba Orchid, Zamia Cycad Warrior and Silver Princess

The Wildflowers of Western Australia

Western Australia’s wildflower season begins in June and lasts for 6 months.

There are some 12,500 flowering species in WA, 60 per cent of which are endemic to the state. The wildflowers of WA are inventive survivors forced to diversity in order to try to survive in the west’s sandy, loamy soils. As a result WA’s wildflower endemism is second only to perhaps South Africa’s in the world of botanical riches.

The sparkling globules on a sundew (Droseraceae sp.) are not actually morning dew condensation, but sticky nectar used by the insect-catching plants to tempt unsuspecting prey. Any invertebrate unlucky enough to be caught is then ingested by the pretty carnivores. The plants compensate for the lack of water and nutrients in the soil by digesting the insects.

Sundew (Droseraceae sp.)
Smoking bush (Conospermum sp.)

The bulbous flowering head of the kingia (Kingia australis) sprout after fire, their growth likely triggered by the release of ethylene gas. Endemic to south-west Western Australia, this slow-growing, silvery-leaved plant has a thick, often blackened trunk that reaches 4-8m tall.

Kingia

Fruitful Mottlecah (Eucalyptus macrocarp) flower in spectacular fashion, bursting from a large pod, splitting it slowly in half to produce flowers up to 10cm in diameter, usually bright red or pink-red. The species name is derived from the Greek words, makros, meaning large and karpos, meaning fruit.

Fruitful Mottlecah (Eucalyptus macrocarp)

The flower of slow-growing grass trees (some examples of which are among the oldest living plant species in the world) are sometimes used as a bushy’s compass because their flowers open most on the sunnier, northern side. Their stems also made good fishing spears and the waterproof resin, taken from the leaves near the trunk, has a multitude of uses.

Grass tree flower (Xanthorrhoea sp.)
Wildflowers in Kalbarri National Park

Explorer William Dampier collected the first Australian daisy, a Brachyscome, in 1699 from Shark Bay in Western Australia. Many Australian daisies were introduced into Europe prior to the mid 19th century and were very popular in the colony from the 1860s until the turn of the century.

Daisy
Yellow leschenaultia (Lechenaultia linarioides)
Mop heads (Petrophile linearis)

The red ‘lip’ of a king spider orchid (Caladenia pectinata) attracts wasps who, thinking that it’s a mate, rub against it and take away pollen to fertilise another flower.

King spider orchid (Caladenia pectinata)
Stark white spider orchid (Caladenia longicauda eminens)
Donkey orchid (Orchidaceae diuris) – two large petals stick up towards the top of the flower giving it a donkey-esque appearance

After his 1699 expedition William Dampier was among the first to cast aside the idea that WA’s low, scraggly looking vegetation was of little botanical worth and commented on the predominance of blue flowers.

Blue bounty
Yellow leschenaultia (Lechenaultia linarioides)
Pincushion cone flowers (Isopogon dubious)
Blushing spider orchid (Caladenia lorea)
Flame peas (Chorizema sp.)
Fringe lilies (Thysanotus multiflorus)
Banksias

Little bears are partial to everlasting daisies, pretty, delicate and soft… Some wildflowers are prickly!

Photography by Don Fuchs from Australian Geographic.