Meet Our Emblematic Native Flower Kangaroo Paw

The iconic Kangaroo Paw with its vivacious, bright and almost iridescent flower shines through the native foliage. It is a lively presence here where much else is muted.

The Kangaroo Paw calls Western Australia home and is endemic to this region. Find it growing wild along roadsides, in eucalypt forests, along river banks, around swamps and shallow waters…nearly anywhere it can take root. Since it requires well-drained soils and plenty of sunlight, that is nearly everywhere in this arid and sunny state.

Different species flower in different months from July to December. And, it is responsible for creating a colourful and pleasing display along with other bright and cheery wildflowers that add their own signature hues to the scheme.

Its remarkable features – the velvety stem and flower, the vibrant colours and the unusual paw-like flower head – make it popular and highly desired in gardens across the world. And, it is an export favourite being frequently shipped to the USA, Japan and Israel.

The unique red-green flowers are alluring. But a stunning palette of pink, yellow, orange and green is also available. And, Kangaroo Paw is perfect for both fresh and dried flower arrangements.

It stands as a testament to our dynamic yet delicate environment. Perhaps this is why it is chosen as a floral emblem for our state of Western Australia, and it even appears on many stamp issues.

This isn’t nearly enough. There is more to this amazing native flower.

Did you know that there are 11 species and 13 recognised sub-species of Kangaroo Paw, with one species holding a genus all to itself? Did you know that Kangaroo Paw is pollinated by birds and can encourage native bird activity in your garden? Or, how about the fact that this dazzling, beautiful flower is resilient, strong and hardy beyond imagination.

Read on as we rediscover a gem and discuss its fascinating aspects.

 

A bit of history

Jacques-Julien Houtou de La Billardière, naturalist and botanist, was responsible for first describing Kangaroo Paw in 1792. He made the observation when the ship he was aboard, “d’Entrecasteaux’s ship Espérance”, made a stop for repairs in Esperance during its expedition to Australia.

An illustration of the Kangaroo Paw FlowerHis collections contained more than 4000 plants, of which three-quarters were previously unknown. And, valuable descriptions of the lands and peoples that the expedition visited, including detailed accounts of the ways of the Aboriginal peoples.

The Kangaroo Paw blooms are fan-like clusters attached to long stems. Each flower has a bright red ovary and unusual paw-shaped petals. Seeing this he named it Anigozanthos rufus.

Anigozanthos – from the Greek anises, meaning unequal, and anthos, meaning flower, referring to the unequal perianth lobes of the flower. An allusion to the division of the flower into six unequal parts.

 

Some lesser known facts

Other than the Red and Green Kangaroo Paw a few other species are common.  These include the Green Kangaroo Paw, which comes in a range of colours – from lemon yellow to emerald green, and Catspaw, which has smaller brightly coloured flowers.

The Aboriginal people call Kangaroo Paw Nollamara or Kurulbrang or Yonga Marra in the local Nyoongar language. They use it in preparing traditional medicine and the plant is of considerable significance to them.

Here are other incredible facts:

  • The Red and Green Kangaroo Paw is the floral emblem of Western Australia since 1960.
  • Flowers have no fragrance. And the furry flower and stalk can irritate skin and eyes on constant contact.
  • Kangaroo Paws are pollinated by a variety of native birds, including honeyeaters and wattlebirds.
  • The stalk of the plant is sturdy enough to perch birds that are attracted to its bright colours. The shape and position of the pollen-bearing anthers enable pollen to deposit on the perching birds.
  • For feeding birds – As the bird pushes its beak into the tubular perianth to feed on the nectar, it brushes its head against the stamens which deposit pollen. Pollen is then transferred from flower to flower as the birds fly about.
  • Kangaroo Paw forms a rhizome or modified stem underground. The rhizome grows to about 5cms in diameter and is responsible for making the plant resistant to fire and drought. The plant can often survive harsh conditions and re-sprout when circumstances change to become favourable again.
  • Kangaroo Paws have tuberous roots which contain significant amounts of stored starch. These roots are eaten by Nyoongar people, similar to the way some orchids and lily species are too. Root tubers formed an important part of the traditional Nyoongar diet, and for this reason, it is possible that the roots of Kangaroo Paws were collected and gathered in large quantities.
  • The Red and Green Kangaroo Paw only occurs naturally in southwest Western Australia. Found commonly around Shark Bay to Scott’s River and at Mt. Barker – Manjimup, along the Murchison River, Busselton, Lake Muir, and King’s Park near Perth.

A close-up view of the Kangaroo Paw Flower

Kangaroo Paws at The Wetlands Centre

If you are considering planting a native garden, Kangaroo Paw is indispensable. You can start by planting at least a few varieties in your garden for that dazzling effect.

If you come down and take a stroll in the perimeter of Bibra Lake or North Lake you will find the familiar sight that is the Red and Green Kangaroo Paw. You will find them blossoming in our waterwise garden too. They thrive rather well in their natural environ here. And our team of staff and volunteers do a great job of caring for the native plant life in and around this area.

To learn more about our amazing native plants and animals, and to help us make sustained and continued efforts towards conserving and rehabilitating our wetlands, come join us at The Wetlands Centre.

We look forward to seeing you there!

 

References

Young, R. (2019). Paws for Thought – Wildflower Society of Western Australia. [online] Wildflowersocietywa.org.au. Available at: http://www.wildflowersocietywa.org.au/advice-and-tips/paws-for-thought/ [Accessed 1 Mar. 2019].

Kangaroo Paws – Anigozanthos – Australian Plant Information. (2019). Anbg.gov.au. Retrieved 3 March 2019, from https://www.anbg.gov.au/anigozanthos/

La Billardière, Jacques-Julien Houtou de (1755–1834), Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/la-billardiere-jacques-julien-houtou-de-2316/text3007, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 3 March 2019.

Kangaroo Paw Plants, Flowers – Care, Prune and Growers Guide (2018). (2019). Ozbreed Plants. Retrieved 4 March 2019, from https://www.ozbreed.com.au/velvet-kangaroo-paws/

Stewart, A. (2019). Growing Kangaroo Paws. [online] Gardeningwithangus.com.au. Available at: https://www.gardeningwithangus.com.au/growing-kangaroo-paws/ [Accessed 4 Mar. 2019].

A Wetland Habitat For Our Amazing Turtles

A close-up shot of an oblong turtle with an inset of one swimming in the wetlands

Turtles are remarkable and resilient creatures that inhabit our wonderous wetland worlds. They are widely celebrated in both popular culture and folklore as totems of balance, beauty and prosperity. In Aboriginal culture too, turtles are seen as symbols of longevity, endurance, and the continuation of life (especially in the face of great hardship and struggle).

We have much to learn from our endearing turtles. However, the avenues are limited as turtles are also inherently shy creatures. They seldom venture out, staying confined to the comfort of their wetland habitat and sanctuary for long stretches of time. And their rituals of mating, nesting, feeding and living, remain largely undocumented and mysterious.

Hidden in the grassy underbrush and marshy swamps, they thrive. Feeding on bugs, snails, worms, fish, crustaceans, plants and animals, scavenging and flourishing, they play a crucial role in the wetland ecosystem. They are vital indicators of wetland health. This is why their ever-dwindling numbers, impacted habitats and disrupted food-webs demand our most serious consideration.

 

Come, Meet Our Oblong Turtle

The oblong turtle or, the long-necked turtle, is a native species that is only found in this part of the world – in a small pocket at the southwestern tip of the state of Western Australia. And we are fortunate for their presence here!

The oblong turtles owe their name to the oblong shape of their carapace (upper shell) and snake-like long neck. Dark brown or muddy black in colour, these turtles are found in waterways across Perth and throughout the south-west. They occur in permanent and seasonal freshwater habitats, including rivers, swamps, lakes, damp lands, and natural as well as artificial wetlands.

Adult turtles can grow large and measure about 30-50cms from the tip of their tails to the end of their beaks. The young hatchlings are tiny as they begin their journey though, with a carapace merely the size of a 20-cent coin!

A long neck turtle walking through the wetlands
Image by Sharon Mcarthur

The Turtle Nesting Period is On!

September to January is a special season indeed. At this time of year, you can witness turtles leaving their watery homes in search of suitable nesting sites. They are known to travel up to a kilometre in search of the perfect site with soft sandy soils where they can lay their leathery eggs.

Unfortunately, a turtle out of water is a turtle at risk! Turtles get run-over by cars as they cross busy roads and pavements, oftentimes distracted by loud sounds and noise from moving traffic. Turtles are also exposed to birds and other predators that prey on them as they find their way. Dehydration and tiredness from the long journey and the added confusion of a changed or disturbed site can cause the turtle to feel lost and ultimately perish from fatigue.

If you are lucky to site a turtle that is on its way, help it cross the road by halting incoming traffic till it crosses. If this is too risky, you could lift it across the road (make sure that you take it in the direction it is headed and not back!) and ensure that there are no other threats around. If you have the time, you could also follow the turtle (at a safe distance) to and from the nesting site. Protecting our exposed and vulnerable turtles can go a long way in ensuring the survival of the species.

 

Threats to The Oblong Turtle

We lose a number of turtles to road accidents each year. In fact, in the period leading from September to January when turtles nest, and from June to July when hatchlings make their way back home to the wetlands, our turtles are at their most vulnerable.

A baby oblong turtle peeks above the water surface to breathe.Feral animals including birds of prey, cats, dogs and foxes are a significant threat to our oblong turtles. Feral animals are known to attack the turtles as well as their nests, feeding on eggs. Poaching and removing turtles from their wild habitat to keep as domestic pets is also a major threat. Although catching and keeping turtles as pets is illegal and punishable by law, it still happens.

And finally, it is the increasing urban sprawl, especially in the vicinity of the wetlands, that is leading to fewer and more disjointed habitats for our turtles. The compromised water quality and enhanced pollution levels are impacting their numbers, even as safe and suitable habitats become threateningly scarce.

 

Turtles on Your Property?

If your home happens to be popular with the turtles and you see a great number on your property, chances are that you are on a nesting site! Turtles are known to follow the same pattern year-on-year and are likely to end up in the same favourite spot for nesting. If you are a turtle buff, this can be an incredible opportunity for you to witness something magical!

Allow the turtle to nest and observe at a safe distance. Ensure that your pets are on a leash and away from the turtle. Make sure that there are no other threats that could harm the turtle. The female turtle will take anywhere between 15-30 mins to lay her leathery eggs, using her plastron (lower shell) and legs to dig and later cover-up the hole.

The turtle will be tired from her strenuous journey and vigorous nesting activity. If you find her at risk, you could help her get back to the wetlands safely, but not unless you are sure that’s the direction she is headed in. Keep the nest undisturbed while the mum is away. Turtle hatchlings will emerge after a period of incubation, and you can help them get back to the water too.

Here are some handy instructions if you are required to move a nesting site or handle a turtle anytime. Please remember that our turtles are wild creatures, and it is not encouraged to interfere with their movement unless they are at risk. That is please do not pick up hatchlings or adults unless absolutely necessary!

An illustration showing the right way to hold a long neck turtle.

Handling a Turtle: When handling a turtle prepare for them to resist and squirm strongly. They do not bite; however, they are known to scratch and struggle. Take care to keep a strong hold and not to drop them when this happens. Wrapping a small damp towel around the turtle can help you get a good grip. Always use both your hands and keep the turtle away from your own body.

Moving a Nest: If you are required to move a nest for any reason, or if you come across a compromised nest and want to help relocate it, here is what you do: Make sure you dig around with gentle hands and get all the eggs in the nest. Mark the position the eggs were in exactly and ensure you put them into the relocated site as they were found. The fresh hole you dig should be at the same depth and with similar conditions of dampness or dryness. Remember turtle eggs that are rotated will not hatch! If the temperatures are too cold too, the eggs won’t hatch!

 

Facts You May Not Know About Our Turtles

Here are some quick oblong turtle facts that may surprise and wow you!

  1. Freshwater turtles, such as our oblong turtles, can drop their body temperature, slow their pulse rate and use their stored body fat in place of fresh food to survive severe hot and dry conditions. This ability, known as aestivation, is the reason our hardy turtles can cope with the roughest Western Australian weather.
  2. Turtles are the only creatures with an exterior shell that is all bone and attached to their spine. The turtle shell is living material, much like our own fingernails. And they can sense pain, touch and temperature through it!
  3. It is a common misconception that our oblong turtles can protect themselves by retracting into their shells. Oblong turtles cannot retract into their shell!
  4. Our oblong turtles can live a long life of over 60 years when the conditions are right. They need to live long because they have very low recruitment rates (few surviving offsprings). In fact, on average only 1% of turtle eggs go on to hatch and survive until adulthood.
  5. Turtles are known to feed on the dead and decaying organic matter and debris. Turtles help keep the waterways clean and aid in wetland function.

 

Help Us Turtle Watch!

Sighting a turtle is a beautiful and moving experience! Be sure to share your lucky sighting at climatewatch.org.au. You can log your sighting using their app. Or call us at The Wetlands Centre Cockburn at our Turtle Watch Helpline.

Keeping a lookout on the migration patterns and movements of our native turtles helps us identify important habitats and nesting grounds. It also helps us create safer homes for these amazing wetland creatures!