The Beautiful Flora of Tasmania

There are few places in the world that can boast the biological diversity we have in Tasmania. Once a part of the supercontinent of Gondwana, after its breakup our island state was lucky enough to maintain a similar climate for the past 70-odd million years, which means we have many “living fossil” species thriving in various ideal habitats. Tasmania’s complex terrain, diverse geology, its proximity to the mainland of Australia and yet its relative isolation as an island, all combine to give us a native flora that is staggering in both its diversity and its beauty. It is possible to stand in a rainforest that has species almost unchanged from when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and then, after less than an hour’s drive, be looking out through a dry eucalypt forest, one of the most recently evolved and fire adapted ecosystems on the planet.

The best way to appreciate Tasmania’s flora is by heading out for a hike in one of our beautiful National Parks. There you can lose yourself for hours in nature and find yourself constantly surprised by what you discover. The best time of year for wildflowers is November to mid-January, depending on the year, the location, and what you are hoping to find.

Pigface on the beach at Maria Island

Tasmanian Flora

As an introduction to Tasmanian flora, let’s start in the Tasmanian mountains and work our way down to sea level, pausing to admire seven distinctive Tasmanian plants along the way.

Richea scoparia. Scoparia.

One of the most spectacular wildflowers when in bloom, this low spikey shrub is ubiquitous with the Tasmanian High Country. Growing over the 900m elevation mark, this hardy plant thrives in our harsh winters. Forming extremely dense thickets, its short spikey leaves pierce clothing (and skin!) easily, creating a love/hate relationship with many bushwalkers. It makes up for this with a spectacular display of flowers in December and January. Flower spikes up to 12cm tall burst into bloom, the colours ranging from white to orange to pink and red. The petals completely enclose the stamens, and the plant relies on skinks (small lizards) and currawongs (a bird in the crow family) to chew through the petals and so cross-pollinate. There are few more spectacular displays than a huge swathe of scoparia in flower beside an alpine tarn, surrounded by dolerite mountains. Best place to see: Walls of Jerusalem National Park.

Isophysis tasmanica. Tasmanian Purplestar.

This beautiful and rarely-seen plant grows on mountainsides in the south and west. Growing in low alpine heathlands, the large purple flower is striking, made more so because it grows so remotely it is rarely seen by anyone other than dedicated bushwalkers. Best place to see: Southwest National Park.

Telopea truncata. Tasmanian Waratah.

This beautiful red flower is endemic to our island state and is much smaller and more fragile-looking than those found on the mainland. It flowers in November-December, and the flowers produce so much nectar it often literally overflows from the petals. It is a valuable food source for many birds, as well as the adorable pygmy possum. Best place to see: Cradle Mountain Lake St Clare National Park.

Pink Tasmanian Waratah plant

Eucryphia lucida. Leatherwood.

This beautiful rainforest tree is the source of our famous leatherwood honey. Flowering January-February, the large white flowers can be so dense the tree appears to be covered in blooms, the forest floor carpeted in fallen petals. The leatherwood is a great example of our unique Gondwanan heritage, as its closest relative grows in South America, another clue that these two continents were once joined together. Growing in cool temperate rainforest, this tree thrives in undisturbed valleys with high rainfall. Best place to see: Mt Field National Park, Hartz Mountain National Park.

Richea dracophylla. Dragonheath.

This beautifully-named plant grows in low alpine forests, particularly the cloudforests on the Tasman Peninsula and Maria Island. Remarkable for its long palm-like leaves, it erupts into flower from November until January, startling creamy white flower heads with reddish brown bracts pushing up from the crown of the plant. Best place to see: Tasman Peninsula National Park.

Orchids, e.g. Dipdium roseum. Pink Hyacinth Orchid.

There is nothing quite as thrilling, botanically speaking, as hunting for and then finding orchids. With habitat ranging from rainforest to coastal, the largest diversity of orchids are found in our dry sclerophyll forests along the East Coast. Orchids are so exciting because for most of the year, they are almost invisible. It is only when they flower that we notice them, and even then, they can be tiny and difficult to see. One of the largest, most vibrant and easy to spot is the Pink Hyacinth Orchid, flowering through December and January. Growing up to 90cm tall, the bright pink blooms stand out from the forest floor. Best place to see: Maria Island National Park.

 People walking in Tasmanian Blue Gum forests

Eucalyptus globulus. Tasmanian Blue Gum.

Not only is this gum our State Floral Emblem, it is also one of our most impressive eucalypts and has the largest and sweetest smelling flowers of our native gums. Growing up to 60m high and with a habitat ranging from sea-level to around 500m, the blue gum has large dropping leaves and a beautifully coloured and streaked bark. Highly prized for its quality timber and sold under the name “Tasmanian Oak,” many of the original blue gum forests have been felled, but the pockets that remain provide vital habitat for birds, particularly the Swift Parrot, as the flowers of the mature trees have a greater nutritional value than younger plantation trees. Maria Island has some of the biggest stands of old growth blue gum forest in Tasmania. Flowering in pockets from October until January, coastal blue gum forests provide spectacular walking. Best place to see: Maria Island National Park.

 

The guides on The Maria Island Walk are incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about Tasmanian flora. For more information about a four day guided walk, contact The Maria Island Walk on 03 6234 2999 or book online.