Sometimes it’s Good to be a Messy Eater
What is part animal and part plant? A kangaroo paw of course! Well…maybe at first glance but this beautiful Aussie gem is definitely all plant. There’s a good chance of checking these buddies out at the moment as some of them start flowering in winter and then keep going right through to spring and summer.
Naturally occurring in south-west Western Australia, these beautiful and distinctive flowers can now be found all over the country, as they're a favourite with many gardeners and landscapers. Their popularity is most likely due to their beautiful, unique flowers.
The kangaroo paw gets its name from its flowers, which are often red in colour, feel furry, and are shaped just like a kangaroo's paw. The nectar in the long and tubular flowers are an important high-energy food source for many birds, mammals and insects.
The kangaroo paw relies on its fellow buddies to help with its pollination. When a long-tongued marsupial like the small, dainty Honey Possum or a thin-beaked bird like the Tawny-crowned Honeyeater comes along to feed on the paw’s nectar, its long, thin anthers cover the animal with pollen. These messy eaters then head off to another plant for dessert, taking the pollen with them, which will help make new kangaroo paw seeds when it rubs off on the next plant.
The flowers of the kangaroo paw don't have any scent, but that doesn't matter to these guys because what they may lack in smell, they more than make up for in colour and originality. In the bush and in your backyard you can find all sorts of coloured kangaroo paw flowers from red and green to hot pink or bright yellow.
Kangaroo paws not only have lots of different coloured flowers, they also have very different sizes ranging from a huge 2 m high to a tiny 30 cm. They love growing in rocky, dry places with lots of sun and pollinator buddies around to help them out.
The leaves of the kangaroo paw grow in a similar way to grass, from underground roots or rhizomes, straight up out of the soil. This is a very useful adaptation when actual kangaroos come along and eat the leaves right down to the ground or when a bushfire comes through and burns their leaves off. Their root system means kangaroo paws can survive these events and start growing again, even after their leaves have been damaged.
These beautiful buddies are a stunning sight to come across in the bush but also have a look around in your local parks and gardens and you're sure to come across a brilliant, furry splash of colour. These pretty flowers will put the spring back in your step this winter.
DID YOU KNOW? The kangaroo paw is a great survivor of droughts and bushfires. They survive by either producing lots of seeds which will germinate when a fire has passed through or because of the rhizomes that are deep enough underground to be safe from getting burnt. Once the fire is over, the kangaroo paw will then begin sending up new leaves from their underground rhizome.
TIP There are a few diseases that the kangaroo paw can come down with including rust and ink fungus. These diseases are naturally kept under control when a fire passes through the bush. In the garden you can cut them back after flowering to simulate the effects of a bushfire. This allows the kangaroo paw to grow back healthy new shoots.