STURT'S DESERT PEA - Clianthus formosus

STURT'S DESERT PEA - Clianthus formosus

Sturt's Desert Pea - Clianthus formosus, is an absolutely stunning annual ground-cover plant that is native to the arid regions of central and north-western Australia. It was first discovered in 1699 by the English explorer William Dampier (1652-1715), but the common name honours the English explorer Charles Sturt, who recorded seeing large quantities of the flowers whilst exploring central Australia in 1844. It is one of Australia's best known wild flowers and as such has become the floral emblem of South Australia.

Clianthus formosus illustration
The striking and unusual flowers appear from spring to summer, particularly after rain. They have uniform crimson petals, broken up by a glossy purple-black bulbous black centre, however there is some natural colour variation within this species. In particular there is a very attractive pure white form, as well as some hybridised varieties which can produce flowers ranging from blood scarlet, to pink and even pale cream. The silky, grey-green leaves arise from low stems and act as a fantastic foil to the flowers.

Although you can't really tell by the flowers but Sturt's Desert pea is from the Fabaceae family which means it really is from the pea family. Be that is it may, it has adapted well to life as a desert plant and while it is generally considered to be a short-lived annual, it has been known to persist as a perennial if environmental conditions are favourable.

As you would expect from a plant that has evolved under such harsh conditions the seeds have a long viability, and can germinate after many years. Seeds have a hard seed coat, which protects them from the harsh arid environments but will allow germination after the next rainfall. Of course this hard seed coat will inhibit germination if you are trying to grow Sturt's Desert pea at home, but this can be overcome by nicking the seed coat away from the 'eye' of the seed or by gently rubbing the seed with sandpaper. Alternatively you can placing the seed in hot (just off-boiling) water and leave to soak overnight before planting.

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STURT'S DESERT PEA - Clianthus formosus

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