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13 Apr 2022

Pink flannel flowers arrive at the Garden

The rare pink flannel flower has arrived at the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan.  With its silver foliage and felt-textured flowers, this native is well-loved for both its beauty and mysterious nature.

Flourishing flannel flowers

These Australian wildflowers owe their name to their unique, furry texture. The most common flannel flower is Actinotus helianthi, native to the coastal areas and ranges of New South Wales and south-east Queensland. They can bloom all year long, making them a charming addition to any garden (including the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan).

the common flannel flower, Actinotus helianthi
Actinotus helianthii, a native plant found in New South Wales and south-east Queensland.

Pink flannel flowers, Actinotus forsythii, are much rarer. You'll only find them growing in disparate areas of the Great Dividing range, south of Katoomba to northern Victoria. However, even if you’re in their native locations, you’ll be lucky to see them as they don’t bloom every year.

Pink flannel flowers
The pink flannel flower, Actinotus forsythii

Flowers after fires

Flannel flower seeds are ‘bushfire ephemerals’, which means they germinate after bushfires. The seeds can stay dormant for years, waiting for their germination triggers – bushfires followed by good rainfall.

When they flower, they turn mountain meadows into seas of delicate pink and white. You might have seen pink flannel flowers flood social media in 2020 and 2021, when they bloomed in their thousands after the Black Summer fires.

Person on mountain escarpment, examining pink flannel flower
Peter Cuneo, Manager of Seedbank & Restoration Research, inspects pink flannel flowers in the Blue Mountains

Conserving the pink flannel flower

The living collection and the Australian PlantBank at the Garden are a hub for plant conservation in New South Wales, working to prevent the extinction of plants. Our science team are currently working with other scientists and partners for the Rare Bloom Project. The project aims to help protect and conserve 120 threatened Australian native wildflowers.

As the pink flannel flower doesn’t flower yearly it can be difficult to find and collect its seeds for conservation. The 2019-20 fires in the Blue Mountains gave us one silver lining – the opportunity to collect and bank half a million flannel flower seeds.

Our science and horticulture staff then set about germinating some of the precious seeds. Before sowing, we primed seeds with smoke and gibberellic acid to improve germination. We germinated around 2000 seeds, with 73 plants making it through the growing process – proving how tricky they are to grow.

In March we teamed up with our partners in the Rare Bloom Project to plant out the fuzzy flowered plants. As well as being a beautiful display for visitors, the plants are now our reference population for further research and education.

Like the pink and white iced vovo bikkie, they are an iconic Aussie favourite that everyone deserves to admire. You can find the pink flannel flowers at the Connections Garden, below the Mount Annan sign on the hill.

Flannel flower planting

Quirky flannel flower facts

  • The genus name Actinotus means ‘bearing rays’, referring to the radiating bracts.

  • Even though they look like a daisy, they are are not. They are part of the Apiaceae family, which is the same family as carrots. Some of our horticulture staff say that the crushed flannel flower’s leaves and roots smell like carrots!

  • Flannel flower seeds need smoke treatment to germinate. Rather than heat, it’s actually smoke that triggers germination. The smoke-derived chemical karrikinolide triggers the plants’ emergence.

  • Pink flannel flowers consist of a cluster of tiny pink flowers called an umbel. Furry-textured white or light pink bracts (modified leaves) fringe the umbel.

  • Our Garden has developed a range of flannel flowers called Federation Stars. This range includes Starbright and Parkes Star which are perfect for your garden or potted collection.

  • Bush-picking is a serious threat to wild populations. To reduce this, we also released Lucky Star, a long-stemmed variety of flannel flowers for the cut flower trade.

Learn more

Listen to this episode of Branch Out and discover the amazing fire survival mechanisms of plants and the recovery efforts to save some species from extinction. Or watch Dr Brett Summerell visit the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Tomah in the video below.

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