Post image for Sturt’s Desert Pea

Sturt’s Desert Pea

March 25, 2009

in Flora & fauna

Sturt’s Desert Pea is one of Australia’s most easily recognised wildflowers, with its clusters of long, blood-red flowers marked by a shiny black centre. It’s native to the arid central and north-western part of the country and perfectly suited to the challenging terrain with a deep tap root, leaves protected by fine downy hair and seeds that last many years until rain falls.

Its name commemorates one of the early explorers, Charles Sturt, who led expeditions to map the great rivers of south-eastern Australia in the early 1800’s, searching in hope for a great inland lake. The scientific name was originally Clianthus dampieri, to honour the explorer William Dampier who first collected its seeds in 1699. Later it was changed to Swainsona formosa to commemorate a botanic collector and creator of a popular herbal remedy of the day. Sturt’s Desert Pea is now the floral emblem of South Australia.

On a trip through central Australia I had been on the lookout for a specimen to photograph, but had met with no success. Then I spotted this plant right in the centre of Alice Springs outside a commercial building; not exactly wild, but it was a beautiful clump. The last light of the day caught it from behind giving the downy leaves a silver lining and the petals a deep fiery glow.

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