Plant Collector: Swainsona formosa

The remarkable Sturt Desert Pea or Swainsona formosa

The remarkable Sturt Desert Pea or Swainsona formosa

Continuing the Australian theme this week, I was very taken by this striking flower, commonly referred to as the Sturt Desert Pea, after Charles Sturt who recorded it flowering extensively in central Australia during his 1840’s explorations. This particular plant was in a tub outside the bookshop at Canberra’s botanic gardens. The scant foliage was visibly leguminous but it was the flowers that were spectacular. They are up to 9cm long and bright scarlet with a showy black boss in the centre, held in clusters. They a little pea-like (as indeed wisterias are) but more distinctive than any pea I have seen before.

It is regarded as one of Australia’s showiest wildflowers. While native to the central and north western areas, it is found throughout much of the country so maybe it is worth a try here in a sunny, dry position. Generally it is a low growing annual, flowering in spring though to early summer before setting seed and dying off.

I bought a packet of seed, unsure on whether I could bring it in to NZ but figuring it was only $4 lost if it was confiscated at the border. There was no problem. It is on the list as being here already so is a permitted import. In fact doing it all properly and declaring it got me through customs faster than had I lined up with everybody else for baggage x-ray. I have seen enough to be a strong supporter of good border control.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

1 thought on “Plant Collector: Swainsona formosa

  1. Harriet

    The first time I saw this spectacular pea was growing out of a crack in footpath asphalt in Karratha. Although the air temperature was about 40 degrees the temperature on the asphalt was more like 60. I marvelled at how nature could choose to have such a wonderful plant in such an inhospitable place.

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