SUMMER 23/24

WILDFLOWERS ON THE CENTRAL COAST
The Central Coast bushland is home to more than 850 native plant species and, more than two years after the bushfires, they’ve never looked better.

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In early December 2019, wildfire burned through Yengo National Park and McPherson State Forest, devouring almost every living thing in its path. International media coverage said ‘Australia was on fire’. Our social media feeds were flooded with images of firefighters giving koalas bottled water, and vets and wildlife carers administering first aid to badly burned wildlife.

We didn’t immediately think about the bush, about who is going out to replant millions of hectares of towering gum trees, wildflowers and tiny orchids. About who is going to put it back the way it was.

Fortunately, we don’t have to. Australian wild flora has been preparing itself for such catastrophic events over thousands of years by evolving and adapting to the ever-challenging patterns of climate change.

Gymea lilies and waratah. Photo Grace Lutwyche.

The Australian bush sometimes actually benefits from bushfires. It resets the balance somewhat, destroys the encroaching weed infestations, helps germinate dormant seeds and opens up the seed capsules on species such as banksias and hakeas.

Within two weeks of the fires, hope was already returning to the blackened forests. On the trunks of the burnt gumtrees, new epicormic shoots sprang out. From the charred ground, tiny seedlings started shooting up, and from the base of the burnt banksias, new growth appeared from the lignotubers.

Watching a forest recover is something of a spiritual process, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes.

Two and a half years on, the bush has not only recovered but has never looked so fresh, vibrant and healthy. It is green and in full flower. El Niño finished with the fires and La Niña has brought the rain to refresh and replenish. The tall blue gums (Eucalyptus saligna) and the spotted gums (Eucalyptus maculata) are in flower. You can smell the pollen and hear the bees.

The endemic Gymea lilies (Doryanthes excelsa) stand like green swords, with towering candle-like flower stalks holding flaming red flower heads up high.

The grass trees (Xanthorrhoea australis) are particularly impressive with their now-blackened trunks, vibrant new growth, long spear-like flower stalks and sweetly scented creamy yellow flowers.

Banksia and grasstree. Photo Kim Cole.

My favourite would have to be the vibrantly coloured waratah (Telopea speciosissima), the mighty state emblem. I have never seen so many flowers at any given time. I’ve been trying to grow them in my garden for years with dismal results, but what a difference a bushfire brings to this amazing plant species.

One final shout-out must go to the small and insignificant species, the ones you can miss or even step on while you’re gazing upwards. They are the intricate and amazing macro plants, the orchids and tiny little twiners that cover the forest floor. We have an impressive line-up of indigenous and endemic groundcovers, including the purple flowering sun orchid (Thelymitra) and dainty pink flowering trigger plants (Stylidium). These little miracles truly deserve a kneel down to admire.

Fringed lily. Photo Jennifer Hartich.

Others worth looking down at are the amazing flannel flowers (Actinotus helianthi). These are plants that truly regenerate after bushfires and appear along the rugged coastlines and ridgelines of the Central Coast. Their simple daisy-like white flowers are special to view in the bush and can grow en masse a couple of years after fires.

THE BEST WILDFLOWER WALKS

There are so many places along the Central Coast where you can get out and explore, and a lot of the walks have been featured in previous issues of COAST magazine. I have not been on one walking trail on the Central Coast that has not featured at least one or more of the plants mentioned here. Even the roadsides in the hinterland are full of amazing specimens, but sometimes you just have to get away from the popular spots and start exploring.

Narrow-leaf drumstick. Photo Jennifer Hartich.

Here are just a few of my favourite places:

In the hinterland, stop at the roadside growers’ markets then head for a picnic at Mangrove Creek Dam. For the more adventurous, the Hominy Creek walking trail to Emerald Pool in Popran National Park is a must, especially if you’re partial to a wilderness swim.

In the south, the quintessential Central Coast flora is found in the Bouddi National Park along the Bouddi Coastal Walk and Bullimah Spur. Kincumba Mountain is always beautiful, and the Daleys Point track can surprise. There is also stunning colour and diversity within Brisbane Water National Park,including the Patonga to Pearl Beach track with its awesome views, or even the classic Piles Creek Loop track.

Coast-loving flannel flowers. Photo Steve Passlow.

In the north, there are Wybung Head and Frazer Park in the Munmorah State Conservation Area, and Catherine Hill Bay. In Wyrrabalong National Park head for the Burrawang walking track to Lilly Pilly loop and the Red Gum trail.

And please remember that even though wildflowers and plants have the capacity to recover after bushfires, they do not survive being picked. And birds and native bees depend on them to survive. Our native plants are protected, so please abide by the bushwalkers’ code to ‘take only photos, and leave only footprints’.

Metallic green carpenter bee with grevilleas. Photo Merrillie Redden.

WORDS JAMES LUTWYCHE

The Central Coast bushland is classified as belonging to the greater Sydney–Hawkesbury sandstone basin and has microclimates that sustain more than 850 native plant species.  
Common and botanical name  Habitat on the Central CoastFlowering season
Gymea lilly (Doryanthes excelsa)Coastal sandy forest  June to September  
Flannel flower (Actinotus helianthi)Common in dry rocky places or on sandy well-drained soil.Spring
Waratah (Telopea speciosissima)Rocky places on sandstone, in woodlandSeptember to October  
Native fuchsia (Epacris longiflora)Sheltered woodland, on rocky ground.Winter and spring
Pink wax flower (Eriostemon australasius)Heath and woodland, on sandstone plateausSpring
Sydney boronia (Boronia ledifolia)Sandstone heath and woodlandJuly to September
Christmas bells (Blandfordia nobilis)Moist open heath, on sandstone  December to February  
Red spider flower (Grevillea speciosa)Heath and woodland, on sandstoneJune to September
Broad-leaf wedge pea (Gompholobium latifolium)Heath and woodland, on sandstoneSpring

Information courtesy of The Australian Plants Society Central Coast Group austplants.com.au/Central-Coast

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