Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sturt Desert Pea

I was reminded of the Sturt desert pea this morning whilst doing the washing up. I have tiles around my kitchen imprinted with the image of this flower so it's a bit hard to ignore! If I said the other day that my very favourite flower was the flannel flower Actinotus helianthii then the desert pea comes a close second. I remember the first time I saw it in the wild. I was working as a cook for an outback tour company and we stopped one evening at Marla in northern South Australia. There in the bottom of a hole that had been excavated for a swimming pool was a mature plant of the desert pea in full spectacular bloom. Too far away to take any decent photos all we could do was stand and stare. It was many years before I finally got close enough to one to take some great photos (on film!). One of these I had blown up and it also resides in my kitchen. I have come across this amazing flower many more times since then, but it never fails to entrance me and I have tried to grow it here (with mixed success) a couple of times.
The desert pea used to be known as Clianthus formosus then the name Wildampia was proposed to honour William Dampier who collected the first specimen but in the end it was changed to Swainsona formosa. The specimens I have grown were all grafted onto the New Zealand native Clianthus puniceus (which is a fabulous plant in its own right) but I believe it can also be grafted onto Colutea arborescens. Purchasing the plant in spring is the best idea and I have grown one plant in the open for almost 12 months. It eventually succumbed not to frost, cold or wet feet but slugs and snails! It is a member of the pea family and snails and slugs love it. My plant was in potting mix in a terracotta cylinder so it had perfect drainage. It grew quite large and had heaps of flowers over many months. I was once asked to obtain some seeds of the desert pea for Whoopi Goldberg when she was touring many years ago. Who would have thought that such a famous person would know about our desert pea, let alone be interested in growing such a humble little Australian plant?! She asked some sensible questions about how to get the seed to germinate and how best to grow it on. Sadly I never found out whether she was successful or not.

1 comment:

  1. I'm reading a book about the adventures of William Dampier so looked up Wlldampia Formosa, and your blog was the first reference on Google. I'm a keen gardener, esp Australian native plants. I wish they'd named the plant after Dampier. If you like reading you could enjoy ' A Pirate of Exquisite Mind" by Diana and Michael Preston.