Telopea speciosissima

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 Telopea speciosissima subsp. var.  Waratah
Telopea speciosissima Ingar Falls crop.jpg
Habit: shrub
Height: to
Width: to
10ft 5ft
Height: warning.png"" cannot be used as a page name in this wiki. to 10 ft
Width: warning.png"" cannot be used as a page name in this wiki. to 5 ft
Lifespan: perennial
Origin: Australia (NSW coast)
Bloom: early spring, mid spring, late spring, early summer, mid summer, late summer
Exposure: sun
Features: flowers, cut flowers
Hidden fields, interally pass variables to right place
Minimum Temp: °Fwarning.png"°F" is not a number.
USDA Zones: 9 to 10
Sunset Zones:
Flower features: red, pink
Proteaceae > Telopea speciosissima var. ,

Telopea speciosissima, commonly known as the New South Wales waratah or simply waratah, is a large shrub in the Proteaceae family. It is endemic to New South Wales in Australia and is the floral emblem of that state. No subspecies are recognised, but the closely related Telopea aspera was only recently classified as a separate species. T. speciossisima grows as a shrub to 3 or 4 m (10–13 ft) high and 2 m (7 ft) wide, with dark green leaves and several stems rising from a pronounced woody base known as a lignotuber. It is most renowned for its striking large red inflorescences (flowerheads) in spring, each made up of hundreds of individual flowers. These are visited by the eastern pygmy possum (Cercartetus nanus), birds such as honeyeaters (Meliphagidae), and insects.

Commercially grown in several countries as a cut flower, it is also cultivated in the home garden, although it requires good drainage, yet adequate moisture, and is vulnerable to fungal disease and pests. A number of cultivars with various shades of red, pink and even white flowers are available. Plantsmen have also developed hybrids with T. oreades and T. mongaensis, which are more tolerant of cold, shade and heavier soils.

Several open banana-shaped seedpods hang down from an old flower spike. Within them a few beige seeds are still attached.
Seed pods containing several beige seeds at bottom

The New South Wales waratah is a large erect shrub up to 3 or 4 metres (10–13 ft) in height with one or more stems.[1][2] Arising vertically or near vertically from a large woody base, or lignotuber, the stems are little branched. There is a spurt of new growth after flowering in late spring, with new shoots often arising from old flowerheads.[3] The dark green leaves are alternate and usually coarsely-toothed and range from 13 to 25 cm (5–10 in) in length.[1] Enveloped in leafy bracts, the flowerheads develop over the winter and begin to swell in early spring,[1][4] before opening to reveal the striking inflorescences. The exact timing varies across New South Wales, but flowering can begin as early as August in the northern parts of its range, and finish in November in the southern, more elevated areas.[3] Spot flowering may also occur around March in autumn.[5] Containing up to 250 individual flowers, the domed flowerheads are crimson in colour and measure 7–10 cm (3–4 in) in diameter. They are cupped in a whorl of leafy bracts which are 5 to 7 cm (2–3 in) long and also red.[1][3] Variations are not uncommon. Some flowerheads may be more globular or cone-shaped than dome-shaped, and the bracts may be whitish or dark red. The tips of the stigmas of some inflorescences may be whitish, contrasting with the red colour of the rest of the flowerhead.[6]

An individual flowerhead reaches full size around two weeks after first emerging from the bracts, and lasts another two weeks before the flowers fade and fall. In the first phase, the individual small flowers, known as florets, remain unopened—and the flowerhead retains a compact shape—before they mature and split open, revealing the style, stigma and anther. The outermost florets open first, anthesis progressing towards the centre of the flowerhead, which becomes darker and more open in appearance, and begins attracting birds and insects.[5] The anther is sessile (that is, it lacks a filament) and lies next to the stigma at the end of the style. The ovary lies at the base of the style and atop a stalk known as the gynophore, and it is from here that the seed pods then develop. Meanwhile, a crescent-shaped nectary lies at the base of the gynophore.[7] The seed pods grow to 8–15 cm (3–6 in) long.[8] The pods eventually turn brown and leathery, splitting open to reveal the winged seeds inside;[1] this generally occurs in early winter.[5] In the wild, only 2 or 3 seed pods develop per flowerhead, but there may be anywhere from 5 to 50 in cultivated plants.[5]

Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture

Telopea speciosissima, R. Br. (Embothrium speciosissimum, Smith). Waratah. Warratau. Stout glabrous shrub 6-8 ft. high: lvs. cuneate-oblong, 5-10 in. long, mostly toothed in the upper part, coriaceous: fls. crimson, in a dense ovoid or globular head 3 in. across: involucral bracts colored, the inner ones 2-3 in. long. New S. Wales. —One of the showiest shrubs of New S. Wales. The heads are 3 in. across and 3-4 in. deep and bear a rough resemblance to a florist's chrysanthemum. The showiest parts, however, are involucral bracts. This plant is known as waratah. It is one of the most distinct members of its family, for a horticultural account of which see Protea. Seeds of this species are imported into Calif. frequently, but although they germinate readily, the seedlings damp-off still more readily. Probably if the plant were once established it could be easily prop. by layering or by cuttings. CH

The above text is from the Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture. It may be out of date, but still contains valuable and interesting information which can be incorporated into the remainder of the article. Click on "Collapse" in the header to hide this text.


Although they grow naturally on deep sandy soils, the species has proved adaptable to other deep, well-drained soils, especially where natural slopes assist drainage. Despite their natural occurrence in woodland, waratahs flower best in full sun, although they tolerate the dappled shade of eucalypts.[9] Heavy pruning after flowering reinvigorates plants and promotes more profuse flowering in the next season.[1] Waratah blooms are highly susceptible to damage from wind, and benefit from some protection from prevailing winds.[10] Waratah blooms attract birds to the garden.[9] The species is readily propagated from fresh seed, but cultivars must be reproduced from cuttings to remain true-to-type.[11]


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Pests and diseases

Several species of fungi infect the roots of waratahs, causing significant plant morbidity or death. Typical symptoms include yellow leaves, wilting, blackening and dieback or part or all of the plant, or lack of proteoid roots.[12] The most common pathogen is the soil-borne water mold Phytophthora cinnamomi,[13] which appears to be more problematic in cultivated plants than in wild populations.[14] Mass plantings at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney and at Mount Annan planted before the 2000 Summer Olympics were devastated by the disease.[14] Rhizoctonia solani can cause damping off or root rot,[13] and is an uncommon pathogen. Cylindrocarpon scoparium and C. destructans (now Nectria radicicola) are also uncommon causes of infection[15] and result in decay of the crown of the plant.[13] Although significant problems, fungi are less likely to be the cause of plant morbidity than poor drainage or soil conditions.[12]

The larvae of the Macadamia leafminer (Acocercops chionosema), a moth, burrow along and disfigure the waratah's leaves, and are mainly a problem in lowering the value of cut flower crops. More problematic is the larger caterpillar of another moth, the Macadamia twig girdler (Xylorycta luteotactella) which can burrow into and disfigure the developing flowerhead.[13]


A pale pink flowerhead made up of hundreds of pinkish flowers still a little greenish in the centre is nestled among its bracts and leaves.
Telopea 'Shade of Pale'

A number of natural forms have been selected for cultivation as follows:

  • Telopea 'Brimstone Blush' is a shrub of smaller size than the species, reaching a metre (3 ft) tall, and was originally found growing on a property of Ben Richards in Oakdale, southwest of Sydney. Flowering takes place in October. The flowerhead is globular with a pink crown and has 160 individual flowers, the styles of which are pink and white towards the ends. Three rows of whorled dark red bracts surround the flowerheads.[16]
  • Telopea 'Cardinal' is a form originally found on the property of Lucille Pope in Werombi, from where it was propagated and made available commercially. The original plant was a vigorous specimen reaching 3 m by 3 m (10 ft by 10 ft) and producing 100 to 120 flowerheads each year. It is named for its large dome-shaped cardinal red flowerheads, which bear 210 individual flowers and are surrounded by two rows of dark red bracts. These blooms have long vase life.[17]
  • Telopea 'Corroboree', a form with longer styles, has compact inflorescences measuring 12 cm (5 in) high and wide, and is a vigorous grower. It was selected for commercial propagation in 1974 by Nanette Cuming of Bittern, Victoria, and registered with the Australian Cultivar Registration Authority in 1989. It is grown principally for the cut flower industry.[18]
  • Telopea 'Fire and Brimstone' is a vigorous form with large inflorescences selected by waratah grower and author Paul Nixon of Camden, New South Wales. It is a shrub which may reach 3–4 m tall and 2 m wide, with large leaves with more heavily toothed margins.[19] Each flowerhead is cone-shaped and has up to 240 florets. The stigmas are a light red and tipped with white. The bracts surrounding the flowerheads are relatively small, while the leaves are large and can reach 44 cm (18 in) in length.[20] The cultivar is thought to be tetraploid.[19] With a long vase life of 17 days, the cultivar is suitable for the cut flower industry.[20]
  • Telopea 'Galaxy' has flowerheads with pinkish red tepals and white tips to the styles, surrounded by large bracts.[21]
  • Telopea 'Olympic Flame' is a form with prominent bracts around the flowerheads. It has large leaves with toothed margins and flowers in early spring. Also known as 'Sunburst', it arose as a seedling in a breeding program conducted by Cathy Offord, Peter Goodwin and Paul Nixon under the auspices of the University of Sydney.[19]
  • Telopea 'Parry's Dream' was a chance seedling in the early 1970s. It gave rise to this cultivar, a vigorous plant with red-pink flowerheads which reach a diameter of 10 x 10 cm (4 x 4 in) surrounded by pink bracts.[21]
  • Telopea 'Shade of Pale' is an unusual pale-pink flowered form of T. speciosissima.[19] It is less vigorous than the parent plant. It was initially promoted as 'Light Shade of Pale' but there can only be three words in a registered cultivar name.
  • Telopea 'Sunflare' is an early-flowering form. It has large leaves with toothed margins and flowers in early spring. It also arose as a seedling in the same breeding program by the University of Sydney mentioned above.[19] Selected in 1981, it has red flowerheads with white-tipped styles which reach 9 cm (3.6 in) in diameter.[21]
an overhead closeup view of a waratah flowerhead, this time a greenish white in colour
Telopea 'Wirrimbirra White'
  • Telopea 'Wirrimbirra White' is a white form from Kangaloon near Robertson. Aboriginal legends of white waratahs existed, and several had been encountered but none had been previously preserved in horticulture. Joseph Maiden had previously found a white waratah near Kurrajong,[9] and others had been sighted near Narara on the Central Coast in 1919, and Colo Vale in the 1950s. Horticulturalist Frank Stone reported one in his garden, possibly propagated from the latter plant.[22] 'Wirrimbirra White' was brought into cultivation in 1972 by cuttings from the original plant, which grew on water catchment property. It has pale greenish buds which open to a cream-white inflorescence. It is less vigorous than the parent species and vulnerable to borers.[23] It is also highly vulnerable to the Macadamia twig girdler.[21]

In addition, a number of interspecific hybrids have also been produced. These have been bred or used as more frost- or shade-tolerant plants in cooler climates such as Canberra, Melbourne or elsewhere.

  • Telopea 'Braidwood Brilliant' is a frost-tolerant hybrid between a male T. speciosissima and female T. mongaensis. Dr Robert Boden of the Canberra Parks Administration began investigating this hybrid in 1962, and it was registered in 1975 by Richard Powell. It is a lignotuberous shrub to 3 m (10 ft) high and has oblanceolate leaves to 20 cm (8 in) long. The red blooms are 6–8 cm (2.4–3.2 in) in diameter, intermediate in size between the parent species.[9] It has grown well in cooler climates such as Canberra.[24]
a red flowerhead nestled among green foliage in a park setting
Telopea 'Braidwood Brilliant'
  • Telopea 'Canberry Coronet' is a cross between T. speciosissima from Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains and T. mongaensis intended for increased cold tolerance. It has red flowerheads to 6–8 cm (2.4–3.2 in) in diameter. Reaching 3–4 m (10–13 ft) high, it is a larger plant than 'Braidwood Brilliant'.[19] It was bred by Doug Verdon of the Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra.[16]
  • Telopea 'Champagne' is a cultivar registered under Plant Breeders Rights (PBR) in 2006.[25] Its creamy yellow flowerheads appear from October to December.[21] It is a three-way hybrid between T. speciosissima, T. oreades and the yellow-flowered form of T. truncata.
  • Telopea 'Golden Globe' is a cultivar registered under PBR in 2005.[26] Larger than 'Champagne', it is also a three-way hybrid between T. speciosissima, T. oreades and the yellow-flowered form of T. truncata. It has been propagated and sold as 'Shady Lady Yellow'. It was originally bred in the Dandenongs east of Melbourne.[21]
  • Telopea 'Shady Lady' is a larger shrub which may reach 5 m (16 ft) high and 2 or 3 m (6–10 ft) wide. A hybrid of T. speciosissima and T. oreades, it arose by chance in a Melbourne garden. The flowerheads are smaller and lack the bracts of the speciosissima parent. As its name suggests, it tolerates more shade.[19] It is vigorous and more reliable in temperate and subtropical areas, and grows in semi-shade or sun.[21] 'Shady Lady Crimson', 'Shady Lady Red' and 'Shady Lady Pink' are three selected commercially available colour forms.[27]
  • Telopea 'Shady Lady White' is a white hybrid between T. speciosissima and T. oreades.[27]


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