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Waratahs (Telopea spp.) are popular Australian plants used primarily for export cut flower production and they contribute a significant and increasing proportion of total Australian flowers exported. Research work in our horticulture laboratories at the Australian Botanic Garden has focused on various horticultural aspects but primarily on propagation, cultivation, vase-life improvement and most intensively on selection and breeding. The research has involved collaboration with NSW Agriculture and through the Waratah Industry Network (WIN) an active grower-researcher communication forum.
Additional work has focussed on horticultural improvement of Telopea through development of breeding techniques (with the Plant Breeding Institute of the University of Sydney). Techniques developed can be used in a variety of other applications including the identification and breeding of cultivars and for decision making on populations of conservation value.
Varietal improvement has lead to the development of Telopea ‘Olympic Flame’ and ‘Sunflare’ (arising from work at the University of Sydney) and a range of new varieties bred for the Botanic Gardens Trust are being field tested for eventual release. The process of breeding and selecting plants that are relatively slow-growing takes many years and requires continuous scrutiny from a qualified expert to achieve a successful outcome.
The cause of bract browning in the NSW Waratah has also been thoroughly investigated. Bract browning is a problem affecting the quality of waratah flowers and is considered by the industry to be the most serious impediment to the development of the export of this horticultural product. Bract browning occurs prior to harvest andd affects the showy floral bracts surrounding the inflorescence. It can be reduced by protecting plants with 50% shade cloth, which reduceslight damage (photoinhibition) and destuction of pigment in the bracts. The improvement of the appearance of cultivated waratahs will benefit Australian horticulture in general, particularly the export cut-flower industry and the nursery industry. The research will also contribute to the knowledge of the biology of Australian plants and may directly or indirectly contribute to ethical and sustainable development and conservation of this taxon.
Click here for information on growing the NSW Waratah.