Flora and Fauna: Sturt Desert Pea

These beautiful plants will have you hitting the outback tracks – just to see them flower!

By Scott Mason

The floral emblem of South Australia, the Clianthus formosus, or Sturt desert pea, is only found in the arid and semi-arid parts of Australia. This unmistakable plant exists as an annual or biennial and usually flowers around mid-late winter and spring, it is quite prominent in the south, and rarely seen in the Northern Territory.


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The scientific name derives from the Greek words kleos, meaning glory and anthos meaning flower, the formosus means finely formed, or elegant. It is the only species of the clianthus family in Australia and is one of the most vibrant and unexpected displays seen in our outback.

The plant itself is a grey-green in colour and grows across the ground, it is only the flower pods that are sent up on vertical shoots. Each flower cluster consists of three or more flowers, commonly five or six, and each pod is about nine centimetres long. The top petal, called the standard, has a glossy black dome at the base. The lower section, the keel, is the same length and points downward and the two smaller petals below the black dome are known as wings. The pods contain a high volume of seeds and is readily devoured, along with the remainder of the plant, by cattle and thus rarely seen on grazing lands. In many places large groups of plants are seen together more so than isolated plants.

The Sturt desert pea is a beautiful sight in our outback, best photographed in the early morning sunlight.




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Feature: Düsseldorf 2016