Last month I witnessed a spectacular natural phenomenon that only happens in arid areas once in a while. The desert was blooming in all its glory.
I saw many different plants flowering I hadn’t seen before, (exciting in its own right for me) but our iconic state emblem that we all know but so few really see in vast panoramas in huge quantities. Captain Charles Sturt would have seen vast areas of ungrazed land covered in like flowers in his travels. If you haven’t worked it out by now it was Sturts desert pea or Swainsona formosus that had me in raptures.
Having stopped at a patch of 6 or so plants on a hill side and taken the obligatory photos along with the oo’s and ah’s shortly after we kept seeing vast groups of plants, some covering hill sides, some in dense clusters amongst rocks and yet more stretching on to the horizon in all directions in between blue bush and cassias.
I’m sure the Sturt pea is one of those plants we get so used to seeing images of both photos and abstract design that our perception of this plant becomes distorted and when seeing them in large numbers in their natural habitat the experience almost become surreal. Mostly their habitat is open and harsh country, subject to frost, sand laden winds, extreme heat, frightening floods and very low average annual rainfall. The harsher and more isolated places they grow seem to make a stronger contrast with this seemingly delicate flower. Throw in grazing by rabbits, goats, sheep and camels into the mix it is quite surprising they survive at all. And survive they do and in fact thrive very well.
On reflection the Sturt pea doesn’t survive but seems to wait patiently while all the extreme events take place and just now and then when the rains are just at the right time, seed dormancy is broken and within weeks an often dull gray green landscape is quite literally transformed to a heart stopping, breath taking vista worthy of travelling for days over rough terrain just to be there.
Right now is the time to rekindle those memories of been delighted by scenes in wild places and plant a Sturt pea plant and/or sow Sturt pea seed. All they need is reasonable drainage, a reasonable amount of water to get them going. From seed, all that is required is to soak the seed in warm water for a while and sow direct. After all, if they can grow well in such harsh places, they will surely make a great plant for a Riverland and Mallee garden.
This article first published in the Riverland Weekly © November 25, 2010.