Waratah Wisdom: The Epic Flower

by Australian Flowers

If you ever wonder what that big, beautiful flower is called that you see on postcards and in paintings of the Australian bush, chances are it’s a waratah! The Waratah (Telopea speciosissima) is an epic Australian plant, and its brilliant red flowers are well-known worldwide.

In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about waratahs, from their fascinating history and symbolism, to how to grow and care for them.

Waratah Facts

Waratah Flower

I know what you’re excited about. You’re about to learn everything there is to know about the flower!

The flower is the official floral emblem of New South Wales and Australia and has been used as a country’s symbol for over a century. The flower is often seen as a symbol of hope, courage, and beauty in art and literature.


The flower (Telopea speciosissima) is a member of the plant family Proteaceae, which also includes Banksias, Grevilleas and Hakeas. It is endemic to Australia, meaning it’s found nowhere else in the world. It’s the state flower of New South Wales, where it grows in the wild.

The name ‘waratah’ comes from the Eora Aboriginal people, who inhabited the Sydney region before European settlement. ‘Walata’ or ‘warada’ is the Eora word for ‘red’, referring to the colour of the flower. The scientific name ‘speciosissima’ comes from Latin, meaning ‘most beautiful.


The plants are divided into two species: the closely related Crimson Waratah (Telopea speciosissima) and the rarer White Waratah (Telopea truncate).

  • The difference between those two species is the colour of their flowers. Their name suggests that Crimson Waratahs have crimson flowers, while White Waratahs have white or cream-coloured flowers.


These plants are found in southeastern Australia, from Victoria to Queensland. They grow in coastal and mountain heathlands, woodlands and rainforests.

The flower needs well-drained soil and full sun to partial shade. They’re also quite tolerant of frost.


The flower is an Australian native plant that can be found in the wild along the east coast, from Queensland to Victoria.

In New South Wales, the floral is the state floral emblem and can be seen on the official state flag. It is also the official flower of the City of Sydney.


Waratah Cultivation

Most of these flowers are best grown in full sun and well-drained soil. They are tough plants and can tolerate drought and poor soils but will flower best in conditions to which they are accustomed.

  • Propagation is usually from seed, which can be sown fresh or stored for several months before planting.
  • The large woody cones that contain the seeds can be challenging to open, so it is often easier to purchase seedlings.
  • Once established, they are generally low-maintenance plants. They are not particularly susceptible to pests or diseases, although they can be affected by fungal problems if grown in humid conditions.


Who wouldn’t want more of these flowers? The best way to ensure you have plenty of these iconic Australian flowers is to propagate them yourself. Here’s what you need to know to get started.

  • The plant can be propagated from seed, but it’s a slow process and can take up to five years for the resulting plant to produce flowers. The most common and successful propagation method takes cuttings from an existing plant.

Commercial cultivation 

The most exciting facts related to its cultivation. This epic flower is quite challenging to grow, which is one of the reasons it’s so valuable. The Waratah only blooms for a few weeks each year, and the flowers are delicate. They must be carefully harvested by hand, which makes them quite expensive.

If you’re lucky enough to find them fresh for sale, you should know that they don’t last very long. The flowers will only stay fresh for a few days, so enjoy them while you can!

Issues of Cultivation 

What happens if you don’t have well-drained soil? If the drainage is poor, the plant will suffer from waterlogging, and the roots may rot. The flower also needs full sun to thrive. They’ll become leggy and straggly if they don’t get enough sunlight.

Floral Morphology

Make sure you know your stuff when it comes to the flower. The average person on the street might not be able to tell you the difference between a stamen and a pistil, but if you want to impress with the flower’s knowledge, make sure you can rattle off a few facts about the morphology of this iconic Australian flower.

For starters, the flower comprises four whorls of petals. The outermost whorl consists of large, rigid bracts that protect the inner flowers. The subsequent three whorls consist of progressively smaller petals, ending in the stamen and pistil (the male and female reproductive organs).

Flowering Processes

It’s quite a mystery how such a big, beautiful flower comes from such a small, unassuming bud. But that’s the magic of the flower!

The journey from bud to bloom is incredible, and it all starts with the opening of the sepals. These green leaf-like structures surround and protect the bud as it develops.

Preparing To Grow Waratah

When preparing to grow Waratah, it is essential to ensure that the plant has enough space.

  • The roots of the Waratah can spread far and wide, so it is necessary to give the plant plenty of room to grow.
  • It is also essential to ensure that the soil is well-drained and rich in nutrients.
  • It thrives in soils that are high in organic matter.
  • It is valuable to know that the flower is a slow-growing plant. In their first year, they will only grow a few inches.
  • However, they can grow up to three feet in their second year. Once established, they can grow up to six feet tall and wide.


Waratah Flower

It prefers full sun, but it will also grow in partial shade. If you live in an area with hot summers, it is best to plant them in a spot that receives some afternoon shade. 

This is because the flowers can be damaged by too much direct sun. Most likely, the flowers will fade in colour and eventually drop off the plant.

Growing Conditions

These plants are hardy and will tolerate a range of soils and climates, but they do best in well-drained soil in a sunny position. If you live in an area with heavy clay soils, it’s worth considering planting your flower in a raised garden bed to improve drainage. 

Getting these flowers to establish from seed can be challenging, so it’s often best to buy young plants from a nursery. Once they’re in the ground, they’re relatively low-maintenance and drought-tolerant. Just make sure you give them a good soaking if there hasn’t been any rain for a while.

How To Grow Waratah

You’ll know they’re pretty committed if you’re lucky enough to have a waratah in your garden. But it’s all worth it when you get to see those stunning blooms in all their glory.

And if you don’t have a waratah but are thinking of growing one, then you’ll be pleased to know that they’re not as difficult as you might think. With a little bit of care and attention, you can have your very own flower in no time.

Growing Waratah from seed

It’s seedling time! Here’s everything you need to know about growing Waratah from seed.

  • To start, you’ll need a potting mix and a seed-raising mix.
  • These can be bought from your local garden centre.
  • Next, you’ll need to sow your seeds.
  • Do this by placing them on the surface of the seed-raising mix and lightly pressing them down.

Propagating Waratah  

Waratah Seeds

These flowers are easy to propagate from seed and often self-sept in the garden. Collecting the seeds can be challenging, as the flowers only release their roots when birds eat them! If you’re lucky enough to find some, sow them in a well-drained seed-raising mix and keep them moist. If all goes well, you should see seedlings emerge in 4-6 weeks.

Once they’ve germinated, the seedlings are fast growers and will soon need to be transplanted into individual pots. When they’re big enough, plant them out in a sunny spot in the garden where they will have room to grow.

Growing Waratah in a pot

If growing them in a pot, ensure it has plenty of room to root and that the potting mix is free draining. It might be necessary to repot your flower every few years, as they can become pot-bound.

If not given enough room to grow, they will become stunted and produce fewer flowers.

Waratah Plant Care: How to

The plant is challenging, which is good news for those who are less than green-fingered! They’re relatively drought and frost-tolerant, although they prefer well-drained soil. If you live in an area with high rainfall, make sure to choose a waratah variety that’s suited to your climate.

Here’s additional information for your knowledge base:


When it comes to watering, less is more for the flower. Water them deeply but infrequently, and make sure the soil has a chance to dry out between watering.

These plants are also quite tolerant of poor soils, so don’t be afraid to let them dry out thoroughly from time to time. Some gardeners even recommend withholding water for long periods to encourage flowering.


Pruning is essential to caring for these flowers and should be done in late winter or early spring. They can be pruned severely, so don’t be afraid to cut back any dead or overgrown branches. This will encourage new growth and ensure that your flower stays healthy and blooms well.

Always use clean, sharp tools when pruning to avoid damaging the plant. And remember to wear gloves – those prickly leaves can be pretty painful!

Frequently Asked Questions about this Epic Flower

How quickly do waratahs grow?

The flower can grow quite quickly, up to 2-3 meters (6.5-10 feet) in its first year.
They are deciduous trees, meaning that they lose their leaves in winter. In the spring and summer, they produce new leaves and flowers. The flowers are a deep orange colour and are pollinated by honey bees.

How big do waratahs grow?

They can grow quite large – up to 1.8 metres in diameter and weighing up to 12 kilograms.
They are found in open woodlands and malle scrub in the southeastern parts of Australia. They have a long flowering season, from late October to early December, and produce large quantities of nectar that attract honeyeaters and other pollinators.

What time of year do Waratahs flower?

The waratah flowers throughout the year are most prolific in spring.

Are Waratahs frost hardy?

Yes, the flower is frost-hardy. They can tolerate temperatures down to about -10 degrees Fahrenheit. However, they may not flower well if subjected to cold temperatures for an extended period.

What is waratah used for?

The flowers can be used as a natural food dye, and the leaves can be boiled to make a tea that is said to help treat diarrhea.
Some people also use this flower to make a type of honey that is said to be suitable for treating coughs and sore throats.

What do waratah seeds look like?

The seeds are small and dark brown. They’re about the size of a poppy seed and have a hard outer shell. The flower is an Australian native plant with beautiful red flowers. The flowers can be up to 8 inches wide and last several days. The flower is the state flower of New South Wales.

Do Waratahs attract birds?

Yes! The flower is a favourite of many kinds of birds, including honeyeaters and lorikeets. Some waratahs have a nectar spur that protrudes from the top of their head, attracting the birds looking for a sweet snack. The flowers also have a strong fruity smell that further entices the birds.

Is a protea a waratah?

Technically, a protea is not a waratah. The flower is in the Telopea genus, while proteas are in Protea. However, they are both members of the family Proteaceae. So while they are not precisely the same thing, they are related.
Proteas can come in various colours, including red, pink, white, orange, and yellow. The waratah is primarily red, with a few exceptions here and there.

Are all Waratahs red?

No, not all Waratahs are red. There is a white variety of Waratah that is quite rare.
The Waratah (Telopea speciossissima) is a member of the protea family and is found in eastern Australia. The most common variety is the red Waratah, but a white variety is quite rare. The Waratah has bright red petals with a yellow centre and can grow up to 2 metres (6 feet) tall.

Can you eat waratah?

Yes, they are edible. Flowers, fruit, and young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. However, the leaves contain cyanide and should only be eaten in small quantities.
Flowers are a good source of Vitamin C and make an excellent addition to salads. The fruit is edible but quite tart, so it’s best used in jams, jellies, or syrups. The young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked like spinach.

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