Kath BafileThe hunt for red wreath flowers…a WA treasure

The roads around Western Australia are lit up in August with the dazzling colours of the wildflowers so it’s no surprise that travellers are drawn from all over the country to see some of the most unique flora in the world. I’m a typical West Aussie who tends just to pop up to Kings Park in spring to take a look at the spectacular display gardens laden with wildflowers but this year, with the news that the season was better than ever, I felt the urge to head north to hunt for the elusive wreath flower, Leschenaultia macrantha.

Everlasting daisies near Mullewa, Western Australia

Everlasting daisies near Mullewa, Western Australia

I wasn’t the only one armed with a fancy camera and thermos of tea undertaking this journey of discovery. I was in the company of hundreds of travellers, all following the same route as I was or perhaps, after you’ve been on the road for a few hours, the rear end of their caravans all start to look the same as you follow along behind waiting for an opportunity to pass. Still, they’re a friendly bunch and when you’re lucky enough to meet up with them at a roadside stop, they’re always ready to share their last wildflower sighting or their favourite scenic drives.

Geraldton maps covered with helpful fluoro pen

Geraldton maps covered with helpful fluoro pen

I started my hunt at the Geraldton Visitor Centre which publishes fortnightly reports on where the wildflowers are in full swing. The assistant, equipped with a bundle of fluoro pens, drew a rainbow of routes over maps bamboozling me with many options of beautiful scenery and look-outs, including one that she said was particularly spectacular as it overlooked an area where I could see the green wheat fields, the golden canola and a spectacular mass of beautiful purple flowers all in the same place. “Do you mean Patterson’s Curse?” I asked. “Yes,” she said with a lowered voice. “But don’t tell anyone that it’s a weed.”

So, with four different maps in hand, I headed off with two main objectives. The first was to capture an image of everlastings worthy of a postcard and the second to hunt out the elusive wreath Leschenaultia (Leschenaultia macrantha).

Mullewa bush with hints of golden everlastings

Mullewa bush with hints of golden everlastings

I headed for Mullewa, a small town 99km east of Geraldton, expecting to pass the typical low growing bush and dull beige fields of nothingness that I had seen many times before but as I drove, every bend brought a sight more beautiful than the last. It seems that in August, the fields are verdant green, the wattles are ablaze with golden colour and the soil is rich red ochre. If that was all I had seen on my trip, I would have been a happy camper.

Town of Mullewa from the nearby lookout

Town of Mullewa from the nearby lookout

I did see a mass of everlastings when I arrived at Mullewa, albeit carefully seeded outside the visitor centre and whilst no shops were open apparently the service station did great coffee and the best chips east of Geraldton. With another flurry of fluoro, the visitor centre assistant told me that I needed to head for Morowa, a further 100km drive, but at the 50km mark I should stop at Canna to see the wild orchids. I had heard this before from a fellow traveller so I waved goodbye to the flies and headed off again.

By this time, although I had walked the tracks around Mullewa, I had seen only a few small patches of everlastings and pompoms dotted along the side of the road but nothing particularly noteworthy.

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Everlastings, Mullewa

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Everlastings, Mullewa

Everlastings_Mullewa_Aug 2014

Everlastings, Mullewa

But, about 10km out of town and quite unexpectedly, I encountered the most glorious mass of pink, white and yellow; a floral carpet that spread for at least one hundred metres. I spent half an hour in that spot taking photos at every angle possible, often with my head down and my bottom up! Heaven knows what the cars driving past thought but even without the benefit of those photos, the image of these flowers will last in my memory for ever.

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Everlastings, Mullewa

Accompanied by a bunch of hitch hiking flies, I drove on to Canna, the tiniest of places with a population of between 0 and 2 but with all the springtime travellers, had exploded to at least 40 from what I could see.

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Canna Hut

I couldn’t find the orchids, I think I was a bit early, but I did find a wonderful old corrugated tin hut which, according to the sign, was the home of Frank Macklin, an English ex-serviceman who had lost his wife and child in a World War I air strike and then came to the Canna region to work. He lived in this hut, which must have been like an oven in summer, with his dog until he died in 1968 at the age of 85. It still had a few gnarly old cacti growing in rusty drums and even after all these years retained a certain rustic charm and a semblance of how it must have been when he had lived there. Someone had even placed a posy of everlastings on the windowsill to give it that homely feel.

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Cactus outside Frank Macklin’s hut, near Canna, Western Australia

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Everlastings and Frank Macklin’s hut, near Canna, Western Australia

Yellow everlastings at Canna

Yellow everlastings at Canna

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Wildflower posy in Frank Macklin’s hut, near Canna, Western Australia

Heading on, I was still on the hunt for the wreath Leschenaultia or, as the locals call it, the wreath flowers. The instructions that I was given was to turn left onto the Morowa-Yalgoo road then drive 6km and look for the sign with the wreath flower painted on the side.

Wreath Flower_car_Morowa_Aug 2014

Wreath Flower

“You won’t miss it,” I was told. “There will be lots of caravans stopped on the side of the road.”

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Wreath flower sign, Morowa Western Australia

She was right. It was easy to see why the passing truckies had complained at the visitor centre that the tourists were all over the place.

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Wreath leschenaultia

So, there they were. Exquisite rings laid neatly over the gravelled surface of the roadside, each made up of dozens of flowers with frilled petals of red, white and pink. The wreath flowers were contained to an area about 200m long on both side of the road and I had been told that there were around 160 in that one spot.

“The people from Perenjori said last year that they had 280 of them,” the lady from the tourist bureau had said. “But we didn’t believe them so they sent through photos and it was true! Ours are first though, theirs aren’t out yet.”

Like everyone else, I wandered amongst them taking photos from above and pondering why it was this spot that they were growing in when they could be anywhere along these hundreds of kilometres of road that were also lined with disturbed gravel, their favourite kind.

Wreath Flower_Morowa_Aug 2014

Wreath leschenaultia

The wreath flowers are only 5cm tall at most but up to 50cm in diameter. Mostly they lay as individual rings but every now and then they interlocked to form a pretty chain against the ochre sand. They are not endangered but are unique to small areas of the West Australian wheatbelt and Geraldton sandplains. It seems that they have not been propagated for commercial sale because from what I’ve been told, they just don’t look any good in pots but I like the fact that these elusive gems send travellers on a treasure hunt through the WA countryside. These wreath flowers are a traffic stopper, not because they are showy, but because they are a marvel of nature that leaves the mind with more questions than answers.

Wreath flowers_group_Morowa_Aug 2014

Interlocked wreath leschenaultia

My trip had involved driving along the new Indian Ocean Road through seaside towns and along the beautiful WA coastline with its crystal blue water and white sand to Geraldton. I headed inland through the green and gold countryside which was adorned with nature’s jewels of red, pink, purple and orange and returned along the Brand Highway where the low growing bushes sat thick against the ground so that the emus could be seen standing tall above them. It was a journey of 1200km in just four days and it was awe-inspiring. The colours painted by Mother Nature made the routes marked in fluoro pen on my visitor centre maps pale in comparison.

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Kath Bafile

About Kath Bafile

After starting her career as a teacher, Kath Bafile began a herb and vegetable production nursery in WA growing the Herbaceous and Potted Wok plant ranges. She soon became known as "The Herb Lady" which always made her think that it was good that she didn't sell manure. In recent years she has combined her knowledge of children and gardening to create a seedling range and website designed especially for kids called Smarty Plants. Kath is also a garden speaker and writer with regular stories in Gardening Australia and online websites.

8 thoughts on “The hunt for red wreath flowers…a WA treasure

  1. helen on said:

    What a fun blog – I love travelling vicariously in this way! Thank you!

  2. Jeff Howes on said:

    Yes Leschenaultia macrantha is hard to find and what a remarkable plant it is once found.

  3. Great journey Kath – and fun to read and enjoy without the flies to bother me!
    Jennifer

  4. regen4 on said:

    HI Kath
    A very interesting article – thanks. I live in Perth and am a member of the Northern Suburbs branch of the Wildflower Society. We often do drives out to see wildflowers but unfortunately I missed the everlastings this year as I was overseas – so it was good to see all your pics.
    As a wildflower enthusiast, it is so sad and very disappointing to note that there are some visitor centre personnel who continue recomend visitors to areas where there are masses of “spectacular” Patterson’s Curse!!
    Surely many tourists would feel ‘cheated’ if they found out later that it was a weed?!!
    Regards Dave

  5. Tiffany Lim on said:

    Hello, can I ask how long did it took for the whole trip starting from the visitor centre and going out to check out those flowers? Thanks!

    Regards,
    Tiffany from Singapore

    • Kath Bafile on said:

      Hi Tiffany, it was a fantastic day around that region. After leaving the Geraldton Visitors’ Centre, we went to Mullewa, then Morawa and then just on to a side road east of Morawa to see the wreath flowers. All of this was about 250km and about 4 hours driving (not counting lunch stops etc). If you wanted to head back to Geraldton after seeing the wreath flowers, it would take another 3.5 hrs of driving. However, it you were touring and planning to head back to Perth, you might consider staying in Dongara for the night instead which is about a 2.5 hr drive from the wreath flowers. It’s a lovely town with beautiful beaches.

      Before you head out to look at wildflowers make sure that you always visit the local visitors’ centres as they get updated information from the locals about where the best sightings are because it can change from week to week. This website is also updated every week or two: http://www.australiascoralcoast.com/attractions-events/wildflowers-on-the-coral-coast/where-to-see-wildflowers

      Lastly, whilst you’re visiting the coral coast, you really need to see The Pinnacles and the Stromatolites near Cervantes and eat a locally caught crayfish (you probably call them lobsters). And, if you have time, just go a little further north of Geraldton to Kalbarri as well which is a really relaxing town that has some stunning day trips (you can get a day flight from there up to Monkey Mia to see the dolphins).

      I hope that you do get to visit. It will be stark contrast to Singapore but you will love it!

      Happy travels,
      Kathy

  6. Katie Newton on said:

    I saw these lovely flowers when I lived in Mullewa WA in 1998 or 1999. The funny thing is, 3 years later whilst hiking the Larapinta track, out from Alice Springs, I swear I saw the same flower but looking bigger, straggly and less refined than in Mullewa.

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