Australia is one of the driest continents, with more than 70 percent of land classified as desert. The deserts of Australia are harsh environments with extremely dry soil and little rainwater. Drought can last for years, and so it is surprising that many plants manage to thrive despite these obstacles. Plants have adapted to the hot, dry conditions and often have deep root systems to drink deeply. The salty, infertile soil of the desert is home to popular plants such as sturt's desert pea and wattle.
Sturt's Desert Pea
Sturt's desert pea is a highly celebrated Australian wildflower. This perennial is low-growing with brilliant red flowers emerging from its stalks. The petals spread out from black, pea-like bumps. Sturt's desert pea can tolerate extreme temperatures, from a light frost to scorching desert heat. It has a long root system to allow for water collection deep into the ground. After a rain, the flowers often take over entire desert valleys.
Waddy wood is an endangered desert tree that can grow up to 50 feet in height. When young, its foliage is upright and spiky in a gray-green shade. As the tree matures, leaves begin to bend downward and droop. Waddy wood was once used as timber by both Aboriginal and European farmers. It is relatively easy to cultivate despite its slow growth.
The kangaroo paw is a popular wildflower found in the Australian desert and is often grown in home flower gardens. It is best considered an annual, since performance declines after three to five years. Kangaroo paw is known for the fine-colored hairs that swathe the flower and stalk. Colors range from bright red, orange, apricot, yellow and green. It grows best in well-drained soil and needs plenty of sun. The kangaroo paw will go dormant over winter.
The sandhill wattle is common in Australian deserts and is distributed over much of the continent. Sandhill wattle is a shrub that reaches heights between 3 and 13 feet. Its distinctive dome shape boasts colorful flowers in the spring, ranging in shades of yellow and orange. Sandhill wattle grows mainly on sand hills and serves as a soil stabilizer. In the past, Aborigines have utilized the ash, gum and seed from this plant.
This wildflower is commonly found throughout both sand and flood plains. Red-flower lotus stems will often trail across the ground, forming a mat. They can also creep over surrounding plants. It flowers most heavily in the spring and is abundant during years with good rain.