Thursday, August 30, 2012

Truly Tasmanian - The Pineapple Candle Heath

Meet the Pineapple Candle Heath, or Richea Dracaphylla,  a truly Tasmanian flower.  When I first discovered this plant, I thought it looked like it should be a tropical bloom - some type of rainforest rarity that could be feasted on by colorful tropical birds.  But its home is the temperate rainforest slopes of Mount Wellington and other high altitude rainforests - moist and cold, the soil wet with snow-melt and a dense canopy of trees over head.  It is endemic or native to Tasmania.  These flowers have been harvested in the wild, but at Swallows Nest we have some wonderful well established plants that are able to be pruned and trained to produce lovely long stems.  

Pruning these plants is no mean feat!  They are as spiky as they look and very dense.  Gloves are required!  But the effort is worth it when the lovely long stems produce beautiful tall flower spikes.  Flowering time is usually the spring months but we often get flowers here much earlier - July and August.  Flowers can also surprise us at other times of the year, but August is usually when they are really starting to bloom in earnest.   

The spiky leaves, about 20cm long, spiral up the stem and the flower emerges from the crown of the spiral.  These flowers are sometimes called Riceflower, because of the obvious likeness.   The rice-looking part is actually the petals of the flower that are fused together.  They fall off when the stamen in mature.  These petals are grouped together and sheathed by bracts that often carry a pink or red tinge.  

In this picture, you can just see the flower starting to emerge from the spiral of leaves on the stem.  

In this picture, you can see how the bracts surround the petals.  There are some petals peeping out on the left.  The bract will open and eventually fall off.

Richea Dracophylla, or Pineapple Candle Heath are a very architectural flower - a strong bold shape.  But they can also be softened by adding them to other natives.  They are a beautiful and unusual flower - uniquely Tasmanian.  

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