Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney, Australia


Telopea speciosissima

The Blue Mountains Botanic Garden, Mount Tomah - September

Common name New South Wales waratah
Scientific name Telopea speciosissima (Sm.) R. Br.
Family  Proteaceae

Genus: Greek - telope, seen from afar (tele, far; ope, view, sight)

Species: Latin - speciosa, showy, handsome; -issima, the most (superlative).

Distribution New South Wales, from Ulladulla to the Watagan Mountains and in the Blue Mountains. Visible in the natural landscape from Mount Tomah west to Clarence and south to Kings Tableland.
Native habitat Sandy soils with brown or yellow clay at depth over sandstone, in dry sclerophyll forest.
Description An erect shrub to 3 metres high with flower heads (conflorescences) each composed of 90-250 flowers with involucral bracts at the base. Basal flowers open first (centripetal). Mostly various shades of red to pink and rarely creamy-white.
Flowering/fruiting Late September at the very earliest through to mid November, in the Blue Mountains.


Proteaceae Rock Garden (below the Restaurant); Proteaceae Woodland; Australian Rock Garden; Entrance


Willing herself to die at her lookout atop a sandstone ridge, here in the Blue Mountains, one aboriginal legend says that the first waratah rose up, redder and more glowing than the red cloaked and brightly adorned
maiden, Krubi, who’s man failed to return from battle.

Robert Brown (1773-1858) named the genus Telopea in 1810 from specimens collected in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. Brown based the name on Sir James Edward Smith’s Embothrium speciosissimum, which in turn was based on Surgeon White’s collection from Port Jackson.

Sir James E. Smith, President of the Royal Society in 1793 proclaimed: 'The most magnificent plant which the prolific soil of New Holland affords is, by common consent both of Europeans and Natives, the Waratah.'

It is the floral emblem of New South Wales; officially since 1962.

Once abundant in many parts of the Sydney metropolitan area, waratahs were over-picked and are now legally protected and mostly confined to National Parks. So, look, laugh, ‘like’ and leave! Or, purchase blooms collected under licence.

All of the waratahs, plus relatives in the Gondwanan plant family Proteaceae, fall within the thematic plan for our living collection.

The Garden Shop at Mount Tomah has a variety of cultivars and a waratah fact sheet. Most nurseries stock a variety of cultivars.