Roxby Downs Sturt Desert Pea display 23rd – 24th October 2010

Monday, Oct 25, 2010 at 22:32

Stephen L (Clare) SA

The first European to see a Sturt Desert Pea in flower was English Explorer and Navigator, William Dampier, when on the on 22 August 1699 on Rosemary Island in the Dampier Archipelago he collected samples of "a creeping vine that runs along the ground ... and the blossom like a bean blossom, but much larger and of a deep red colour looking very beautiful". Today these very samples are housed in the Fielding-Druce Herbarium at Oxford University in England.

Captain Charles Sturt (1795-1869) noted the occurrence of Swainsona formosa in 1844 while exploring between Adelaide and central Australia, and the common name, Sturt's Desert Pea, commemorates a notable explorer of inland Australia, as well as indicating the plant's habitat and family. Sturt's journal, Narrative of an Expedition into Central Australia, refers several times to the beauty of the desert pea in flower and the harsh nature of its habitat, and notes that beyond the Darling River: "we saw that beautiful flower the Clianthus formosa in splendid blossom on the plains. It was growing amid barrenness and decay, but its long runners were covered with flowers that gave a crimson tint to the ground".

Sturt's Desert Pea, Swainsona formosa, was adopted as the floral emblem of South Australia on 23 November 1961, using the name Clianthus formosus. Swainsona formosa is confined to Australia, where it occurs in all mainland States except Victoria.

Any Outback traveller that has witnessed the stunning vibrant displays of South Australia’s Floral Emblem will testify that they are a brilliant wild flower to come across, with the usual vibrant deep red flowers with a deep black centre. So special is this great flower that many organisations and Councils across Australia have adopted this flower as their official logo.

Like most Outback Regions of Australia during 2010, Roxby Downs, a mining town north of Woomera in South Australia had received constant good rainfall. With an average rainfall of just 199mm per annum, Roxby Downs has received 272.4mm of rain having fallen up until October 2010, with a record rainfall of 86.0mm recorded in one day on the 9th April 2010. Reported by the media in Adelaide as the best displays of Sturt Desert Pea in over 40 years, this was an opportunity that we were not going to miss and on face value was rarer than the running of the Cooper Creek Ferry.

Keeping in contact with the Roxby Downs Visitor Information Centre regarding of the state of the displays and if they were still on show, Fiona and I set aside our next free weekend to make the 5 hour trip to witness the display first hand. Leaving Clare very early Saturday morning, we headed up to Roxby Downs, and with the usual Langman’s luck of it raining for most of the way to Roxby Downs. The first displays were uncounted near Coorlay Creek, around 20 kilometres south of Roxby Downs. All the Sturt Desert Pea were the usually seen flowers, with deep red petals with jet black and dark brown centres. Eager now to see the many different colours that were in full bloom, we headed straight to the Visitor Information Centre when we arrived in Roxby Downs for details and a mud map of were we hoped to locate as many different colour variations as possible. What we were now told was that we would have to search each area meticulously, as like any native wild flower, they only had a limited life span and there would be no guarantee that any of the variations that were sighted over two weeks previously by the Tourist Officer would still be there.

Armed full of confidence and our mud map, we headed north out of the town and after about 10 minutes of searching, we located our first and very different coloured Desert Pea. Moving to our next site, we were again rewarded and then met two local ladies who offered to show us two more sites that we were not told about by the Tourist Office. After visiting the first site, we proceeded to the second site and then the unwanted happened, it started to rain quite heavy, with no sign of it going to let up. We now had to reluctantly abandon our search for those very special flowers and booked into our pre booked accommodation.

After lunch with it still raining quite heavy, we set off to see Andamooka with the hope that it would stop raining in the afternoon. All side roads from the main road were now very wet with some “Road Closed” signs being erected. Enquiring at the local information office in Andamooka, and we were informed that 5mm had already fallen and it was still raining. Heading back to Roxby Downs luck was again on our side and it stopped raining and we were again back on of quest for discovering more hidden Sturt Desert Peas variants. The locals have taken just as much an interest as the tourists and there were many side tracks made from the main road into areas where there are large displays of wild flowers. The only colour variant that stands out against the striking red flowers were the white desert peas. From a distance they look like a piece of discarded litter but when you get close to plant, it is then very easy to see that they were a white desert pea and not a piece of paper. Just how many other colour variants there are, we will not know, but the colours that we did locate well and truly made the trip justified and if you would like to witness this display personally, then head to Roxby Downs within the next few weeks to see a true feat of what nature can put on.

Sturt Desert Pea was not the only wild flower on display around Roxby Downs, with countless acres of Soft billy buttons - Craspedia pleicephala, Bush minuria – Minuria cunninghamii, Fleshy groundsel – Othonna gregorii, Poached egg daisy – Polycalymma stuartii to name just a few. Those that do head up will not be disappointed and for the best advise on where to try you luck, the very friendly staff at the Visitor Information will gladly point you in the right direction and who knows, you may find more than we did.
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