Flannel flowers have sprung in bloom in large numbers in a wildfire-affected landscape and reach towering and unexpected heights.
- An expert says it is the largest display in decades
- It follows drought, severe forest fires and huge rainfall events
- Some of the flowers are up to 1.7 meters, much taller than usual
The iconic Australian flowers are a striking sight in the Lake Innes Nature Reserve, just south of Port Macquarie on New South Wales’ mid-north coast.
They appear to be a white sea moving in the Australian bush.
Locally based National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) senior project officer Geoffrey James said he had not seen such a display of flannel flowers at this location in decades.
“It has not been like this in the Lake Innes Nature Reserve for a long time … for more than 20 years,” he said.
“The last great forest fire [before the 2019 bushfires] who went through there was in 2000 but I do not remember the flowers like that afterwards. “
James said he had seen the flannel flowers develop for a few months.
“Every time I drove down [past the reserve], I could see the carpet out there, the silver blue look, and I said to my wife, ‘Wait until spring, it’s going to look so good,’ he said.
“We need a couple of good years to get the flowers and animals to bounce back in numbers, we don’t know when the next fire is going to happen or the next drought.”
Towering flannel flowers
Flannel flowers usually grow from about 30 to 70 inches tall, but some in the Lake Innes Reserve are far beyond that.
“They’re fat, there are hundreds of them, so they all support each other so they can get really tall.”
Cathy Offord, based at the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan in southwest Sydney, has published many articles on flannel flowers and after looking at photos of them in the Lake Innes Nature Reserve, she said she had never seen anyone as huge.
“Wow! That’s a great sight,” said Dr. Offord.
Why do the flowers bloom?
Flannel flowers, named after their soft, woolly feel, grow along the east coast of Australia, from the south coast of NSW, up into south-east Queensland and out to Narrabri in the central west of NSW.
They usually bloom in spring and summer, and some years they are much more productive than others.
James said this year’s exhibition near Port Macquarie was the combined result of the drought, followed by a severe forest fire in late 2019 and then heavy rainfall, which led to flooding in many areas earlier in the year.
“It was a combination of all the different factors that just made it a perfect relationship [for flannel flowers],” he said.
“Basically, they’ve had a window of opportunity since forest fires in 2019, so it’s almost two years since we had the fire that went through Lake Innes Nature Reserve, and it’s basically opened the big house, the tea tree, and things that was really dominant.
“It was a combination: forest fire, drought, all the exaggerated plants let their leaves go, and the sun could come in and hit the ground and let the seeds germinate.”
The forest fires also resulted in a burst of flannel flowers last summer in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.
“Twelve months ago in the Blue Mountains there was actually a huge bloom of the pink flannel flowers; it’s really specific to that area. We just get the whites up here,” James said.
“Many people had not seen them before [display of flowers] was really a response to the forest fires that went through there.
Christmas bells next
The Lake Innes Nature Reserve was covered with native Christmas bells last summer, and the flowers were more visible than usual in the wildfire-ravaged landscape.
“Basically, this time last year we had a ton of grass trees, and flocks of lorikeets came in there and fed them … and then November and December came, boom, out came the Christmas bells,” James said.
“But with Christmas bells, it’s not just fire, there are other factors that go into why they bloom and how many actually bloom.