Les Hodge | Iconic emblem of the Australian bush

SOUTHERN BEAUTY: The standard Tasmanian waratah is a little less showy than its mainland cousin, but spectacular none-the-less.
SOUTHERN BEAUTY: The standard Tasmanian waratah is a little less showy than its mainland cousin, but spectacular none-the-less.

Waratahs are an Australian endemic genus consisting of five species of large or small trees.  

They are a wondrous sight to see flowering in their natural habit as their showy flowers stand out like huge red beacons in a sea of forest green. 

The name waratah, meaning ‘beautiful’, comes from the Eora Aboriginal people, the original inhabitants of the Sydney area.  

A member of the Proteaceae family, the waratah is known botanically as Telopea given to it by Robert Brown who collected plants in the Blue Mountain area in 1810 and is derived from the Greek ‘telopos’ meaning to see from afar.

The flowers are the main feature of this plant and come in white, pink and yellow with an inflorescence consisting of many small, individual flowers, ranging in numbers from 10 to 240, densely packed into a compact head.

The stunning white waratah is an unusual addition to any garden.

The stunning white waratah is an unusual addition to any garden.

Their showy flowers attract nectar-loving birds to the garden.

Waratahs won’t grow in heavy clay soil unless a mixture of good soil, humus and compost is added. 

A well-drained, warm, sandy, gravelly soil with a thin mulch of humus suits them best, ideally in a shaded area as this is the natural environment they grow in. 

The position should preferably be facing east to catch the morning sun   

The traditional waratah has eye-catching and vivid red flowers.

The traditional waratah has eye-catching and vivid red flowers.

Waratahs should ideally be severely cut back for at least the first two years.

I would cut them to within about 30 centimetres from the ground the first year then 60 centimetres the second year. 

This may seem a little harsh but waratahs tend to be shallow-rooted and are easily blown over by strong winds, so this early cutting back will develop a strong plant.

They will recover quickly. You can also plant them in a close group of two or three so they can support each other.  

The unusual luminous yellow form of Telopea truncate ‘Essie’, known as the Tasmanian waratah, was found growing in Essie Huxley’s garden in southern Tasmania. Miss Huxley was an avid gardener and plant collector.

A remarkable survival mechanism waratahs have is that they grow from a modified stem called a lignotuber which allows them to produce masses of shoots after a bush fire.

The protea is related to the waratah and has equally dramatic blooms.

The protea is related to the waratah and has equally dramatic blooms.

A close relation to the waratah is the protea an attractive shrub with cone- or cup-shaped flower heads with large, rigid, attractively-coloured bracts.  

It is also a very popular cut flower.

This South African native prefers well-drained, sandy loams with plenty of humus.  

A mulch of leafmould is beneficial.  

Water only in summer and then at the base of the plant keeping the leaves dry because if you spray them in hot sun the plant will most likely die.

Although proteas will respond to cutting back, pruning is not generally recommended as the picking of blooms is usually sufficient.  

Diary

July 17: Australian Plant Society meets at the Max Fry Hall on Gorge Rd, Trevallyn at 7.30pm. Guest speaker for the evening is Margaret Brock on ‘Wetlands - Life On The Edge’. Visitors are most welcome.  

July 18: The Launceston Horticultural Society meets at Windmill Hill Hall, High Street, Launceston at 8pm. Visitors welcome. Home-made supper.

July 19: The Launceston Orchid Society meets at the Newnham Uniting Church Hall, George Town Road, Launceston at 7pm. 

Daily: The Emu Valley Rhododendron Garden,  Romaine, Burnie. Open 9am to 5pm. Tea room open 10am to 4pm.