Tuesday, 24 November 2015

West Australian heath a big inspiration


This is the Tassel Flower, yet another species you'll only find growing naturally in south-west Western Australia. It's not immediately obvious what kind of plant it is. I saw it growing on the forest flora near Beedelup Falls, thinking at first it was a weed of some kind.

Whether weed or native I struggled to put it into a genus or even a family. Before I saw the flowers I wondered it it might be some kind of bamboo or even palm. Even with flowers it didn't quite register with me at first. The flowers are small and I thought the petal-like parts might by in two whorls of three (i.e. six), making it perhaps a 'monocot' or lily of some kind.

Only when my wife Lynda, who complements my botanical knowledge well (i.e. often knows more than me!), said it looked a bit like the heaths you see in the Grampians did it twig (so to speak). I also recounted the floral bits finding them to be five rather than six.


Once in the right family, Ericaceae (in the part of this family that used to be Epacridaceae), I could easily track it down to Leucopogon verticillatus, the Tassel Flower. It's described in FloraBase as a 'bamboo-like shrub', so my first reactions were sound.


The flowers typically have a pink tube with the lobes white and bearded on the inside. The plants I photographed had flowers half strong pink/red and half pale, almost split down the middle, and presumably hairy inside (I have to confess I didn't look and its not obvious in my pictures). Leucopogon means 'white beard' and almost all species have flowers bearing tiny white hairs on their inside.

But it's an unusual looking heath and an unusual looking Leucopogon. At up to four metres high, the Tassel Flower is the largest Leucopogon species in Australia and the tallest epacrid (heath) in Western Australia. So it's a biggun.


The structure, with the long separated whorls of 'bamboo-like' leaves is also unusual. According to iNaturalist and plenty of other sites repeating the same line, it's distinctive form and similarity to bamboo made it the first Western Australian (plant?) export to Japan, for use in ikebana.

Engineers seem attracted similarly by its geometry. The design of the Tree Top Walk in the Valley of the Giants (a couple of hours south-east from Beedelup Falls) was apparently inspired in part by the Tassel Flower, with the pylon platforms (below) owing their form to this heath and the connections in between to a local sedge, Lepidosperma effusum.


Back in nature, it grows in Karri, Jarrah and Marri forests all evocatively named after the local Aboriginal words for the dominant eucalypts (Eucalyptus diversicolorEucalyptus marginata and Corymbia calophylla respectively).

Images: Apart from the Tree Top Walk pylon, which comes from the Donaldson+Warn website, all pictures are from Beedelup Falls, near Pemberton in south-west Western Australia. 

3 comments:

Lauren said...

I'm a big fan of the heaths- what a weird Leucopogon! Thanks for the interesting post.

Tim Entwisle said...

Glad you liked it. Yes quite different to most of them! Tim

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