Wildflowers of Cooloola

Excerpts from Discovering Cooloola - a complete guide & map 
by John Sinclair in 1978


Cooloola is synonymous with wildflowers.  Because of its great diversity of landscape, each possessing its own unique collection of endemic plants and communities, Cooloola has a greater floristic assemblage than any other part of coastal Queensland and probably rivals any other area of comparable size in Queensland  The forests of Cooloola themselves contain more than 100 species of trees and shrubs, but by far the biggest array of plants are the small herbs, orchids, lillies, and other lowly wildflowers.  These annually produce their usually short-lived bursts of flashing colour which attract attention to what is at other times often an inconspicuous herb cloaked only in green.

At least 726 species of flowering plants and ferns have been listed from Cooloola, and at almost any time of the year, some of them will be putting on an attractive display.  However, the layman might wander over the Noosa Plains during the winter or spring months and be unaware that Christmas Bells were growing there, because at that time of the year their grass-like leaves are inconspicuous, yet at mid-summer they are amongst the most spectacular plants on the plain.

.....Although they appear for most of the time as scratchy lowly plants growing in low nutrient soil their annual bursts of floral display are major assets of this region."

Blue, purple and mauve flowers:

  • Austral Blue Bells Wahlenbergia sp. - lives up to its name in flower colour and shape.  
    • Usually about 2 to 3 flowers are borne up to 45cm high.  It is widely distributed throughout Cooloola liking sandy positions.  The flower opens up like a star on hot summer days looking more like a bell at night.
  • Chloanthes Cloanthes parveflora -  a small erect shrub producing mauvish flowers in Spring and Summer.
  • Dampiera Dampiera stricta has large deep royal blue flowers and has several flowering seasons throughout the year.
  • Bush Iris Patersonia sericea - produces a blue purple or deep purple three-petalled flower up to 30cm high from late August to October.  It likes the poor soils and rock habitat and is a spectacular star of the Noosa Plains spring display.
  • Hovea Hovea acutifolia - produces a rich purple pea shaped flower on a large erect bushy scrub up to 2.5 metres.  It grows in well drained sandy soils in open forest, flowering from August to October.
  • Purple Coral Pea Hardenbergia violacea - a creeper which in August and September puts on an attractive display of purple pea-shaped flowers, mainly in well drained open forested areas throughout Cooloola.
  • Bladderwort Utricularia lateriflora - grows from 7.5cm to 10cm high, with a diminutive tongue-like purple to mauve flower which attracts insects.  Insects are also digested in the submerged bladders.   This swamp plant grows in poor, nitrogen deficient soils and flowers from September to October.
  • Goatsfoot Ipomoea pes-capras - one of the common creepers of the foredunes.   It has a large distinctive goatsfoot leaf about 8cm across and in October-November produces a deep mauve-pink bell shaped flower about 7-9cm in diameter.
  • Fringed Lily Thysanotus tuberosus - flowers from Spring to Summer, with its delicate pale mauve to purple flowers often in groups on the stem which is 15-30cm high.  The three petals are fringed and the three sepals add character to this distinctive wildflower of the grasslands.
  • Vanilla Lily Sowerbaea juncea - turns on its mauve display of dense cluster of small flowers, which have 3 mauve sepals and 3 petals, in Spring.   It grows well in poorly drained sandy soils, particularly after fire.  Its name is derived from its perfume.
  • Wax Lips Glossodia minor - one of the small ground orchids to burst into blue flower in the early Spring and even in July.
  • Sun Orchid Thelymitra ixiodes - a brilliant cobalt splash of blue when its spikes of flowers appear in late July.  The later flowers are paler and more sweet scented.
  • Pig Face Carpobrotus glaucescens - a creeper, produces on its thick fleshy angular foliage, a soft delicate purplish pink gerbera-like flower which enlivens the colours of the foredunes.

Pink Windflowers:

  • Boronias are all pink and they all have four petals.  4 varieties:  
    • Wallam Boronia B.falcifolia - an erect under shrub with few stems to 50cm in height and with del rose pink flowers in axils along the stems.  It grows in the wetter heaths, and flowers best in Spring.
    • Forest Boronia B. rosmarinifolia - has a larger more open pale pink flower.  It grows in open well drained forest throughout Cooloola notably in the Banksia forests.  When crushed its leaves smell like Rosemary.  Flowers mainly in Spring.
    • Wide Bay Boronia B. rivularis - found only on Fraser Island, near Tin Can Bay, and in the Cooloola area.  It is a striking ornamental plant which grows in damp gullies on the banks of creeks, usually in the shade of trees.  It grows to 5 metres and may flower from Spring to late Summer.  Its crushed leaves smell like sarsaparilla.
    • Boronia keysii - found only in the Cootharaba area.  It is most attractive (similar in many ways to Wide Bay Boronia) and until rediscovered by Dr AG Harrold in 1972, had not been recorded since 1909. 
  • Trigger Plants are all in the Stylidium family.  The three species found in Cooloola have pink flowers which have an unusual trigger action which is 'touched off' by insects to stimulate pollination.
    • Grass Trigger Plant Stylidium graminifolium - grows in sandy wallum flats in open eucalyptus forests.  It flowers in Spring and early Summer but flowers can be found at other times especially after bushfires.
    • Wallum Trigger Plant Stylidium ornate - grows in wallum flats in swamps and bogs.  It usually flowers in the hotter months with a variation in colour ranging from almost white to apricot pink or rose pink.
  • Sundews are common in the low nutrient wetter areas of Cooloola.  They make up the nutrient deficiency by trapping insects on the sticky dew of their hairs and digest them to release nitrogen.
    • Tall Sundew Drosera auriculata and Forked Sundew Drosera binata - despite their deep red foliage have white flowers.  However, the more common prostrate Spoonleaf Sundew Drosera spathulata has attractive bright pink (occasionally white) short lived flowers in October.
  • Hyacinth Orchid Dipodium punctatum - grows from 30 to 60cm tall in Cooloola and thrives where there is a build-up of leaf mould in Eucalypt forests.  Its typically orchid-like flower is usually about 2cm across and is dark pink mottled with darker brown spots.  There are up to 12 flowers to a stem.
  • Silky Spider Flower Grevillea leiophylla - a low prostrate shrub growing throughout the wallum which produces pinkish-red typical grevillea-like spider flowers from July to December.
  • Melastome, Blue Tonhur Nunyiom or Native Lasiandra - all common names for Melastoma polyanthus, which is a shrub growing to 2.5 metres in swampy or marshy conditions.   It is common in Cooloola.  The pink flowers, which are about 5cm across, are produced from Spring to Autumn in a long season.
  • Dog Rose Bauera capitata - a scrambling plant which prefers moist sandy situations such as the wetter parts of the Noosa Plain  From Spring to late Summer it produces deep pink flowers almost 2cm across.
  • Pink Wax Flower Eriostemon australasius - one of the outstanding flowers of the Cooloola region.  It grows as a sprawling shrub, producing a profusion of attractive pink waxy flowers like five-pointed stars.  A good location is on the King's Bore Road immediately east of the Teewah Creek bridge.
  • Pinkies Caladenia carnea - this attractive little ground orchid is common on the Noosa Plain.  A simple flower is borne at the end of a stem about 15cm in height during July and August.

White Flowering Shrubs:

  • Tea Trees Leptospermums - all shrubs which were originally collected by a colleague of Captain Cook and used as a substitute for Chinese Tea.  The name is also used for Paperbarks Melaleucas which confuses the issue and discourages the use jog common names, so Leptospermums are now commonly called May.  However in Cooloola, there is a rich variety of Tea Trees Leptospermum all with the same distinctive five round-petalled flower which is roughly the size of a five cent piece, and has a greenish centre.  The Leptospermums flower mainly in Summer and put on a good display in the holiday season.  Not all of them will be listed here.  
    • Weeping Tea Tree L. attenuatum - grows to 5 metres high, with a papery bark and pendulous branches.
    • Yellow Tea Tree L. flavens - grows to 4 metres in damp sandy places.  It is common to this region and has a hard bark and narrow leaf which is lightly lemon scented.
    • Leptospermum samibaccatum - grows to 3 metres high and does well on the coastal sandy soils of Cooloola and Fraser Island.
  • Wedding Bush Ricinocarpus pinifolius - thrives on coastal heaths and sand dunes.  From August to September it is transformed from an ordinary dark green shrub, up to 2 betres high, into a mass of white five-petalled flowers emphasising its appropriate mean.  It is found throughout Cooloola.
  • Phebalium Phebalium woombye - is a widely distributed shrub throughout Cooloola, growing to 2 metres tall in the sand mass.  Although it flowers with clusters of small five-petalled white, cream or pink flowers 1cm in diameter throughout the year, it is prolific in August to October.  It can be identified by its linear leaves 2-3cm long which have a silvery green underside contrasting with the shiny green above.
  • Midyim Austromyrtus dulcis - a small shrub with shiny dark leaves which grows in the understory of the forests on the sand mass to a height of 1 metre.  It flowers from October to January and around Easter it is laden with small pleasant tasting (slightly eucalyptus flavoured) greyish speckled berries.  The young foliage has attractive pink tinges and the flowers are similar to leptospermums.
  • Whitehard Leucopogon leptospermoides - a shrub to 2 metres tall covered with its tiny fringed or 'bearded' flowers in the early Spring.
  • Hakeas - two prickly leaved shrubs growing in the flatter wallum areas and on the Noosa Plain produce brilliant white or creamy flowers in Spring.  
    • Hakea gibbosa - the woody seed pods which open up look like two ears lingering on the plant
    • Hakea plurinervia - another strong white-flowered shrub from the western catchment. 
  • Drumsticks Petrophilia shirleyae - growing in similar habitat to this plant which produces flower heads like their name.  

White Wildflowers:

  • 3 common Heaths in Cooloola:
    • Common Heath Epacris obtusifolia - likes swampy places or damp sunny positions. It stand 60 to 90cm tall.  The whole flower stem, covered in rows of small bell-shaped flowers usually all facing the same way, emerges in Spring.  
    • Coral Heath Epacris microphylla - stands 90 to 120cm and is found in the wallum areas growing in or close to fresh water and flowers from Autumn and Winter to early Spring when it is at its best.
    • Wallum Heath Epacris pulchella - grows in similar situations to Coral Heath.
  • Slender Rice Flower Pimelia linifolia - may sometimes be pink, produce their disc-like 2-4cm diameter clusters of flowers during Winter and Spring on an erect slender shrub which grows to 30cm or to twice that height in swampy places.
  • Devel's Rice Conospermum taxifolium - a small erect shrub which produces clusters of small white flowers at almost any time of the year.  Since it stands generally higher than the grassland it is more conspicuous.
  • Baeckeas flower during the hear of Queensland Summer in the main holiday season.  Their dainty white flowers are worthy of attention.
    • Twiggy Baeckea B. virgata - a shrub 3 to4 metres in height which produces flowers like small Leptospermum flowers from late Spring to midsummer.
    • Weeping Baeckea B. stenophylla - a slender erecty shrub to 3 metres.  It flowers in such profusion in late Spring and midsummer that despite the smallness of the flowers they make a beautiful picture.
    • Straggly Baeckea B. linearis - flowers in Spring.  It is a straggling upright shrub to 90cm high which is common in sandy soil in the wallum flats.
  • Winter Caladenia Caladenia alba - produces its attractive solitary white orchid blooms with one dorsal petal and four lower petals (each about 1cm) from about May.  It characteristically grosws in woodland.
  • Milkmaild Burchardia umbellata - has attractive white waxy flowers with red markings, which resemble six-pointed stars in Spring and Summer.  It may grow as tall as 60cm.  It is most common in the open heaths of the Noosa Plain.
  • White Double Tails Diuris alba - a ground orchid, starts flowering in July, and has a distinctive white bloom which is often blotched in the heart with purple.  It is found in open forest or grasslands.  Its relative Yellow Double Tail Diurius aurea flowers slightly later.

Yellow Wildflowers:

  • Giunea Flowers Hibbertia sp. are common throughout Cooloola.  Over 7 species have been recorded.  They all have fragile yellow five-petalled flowers.  
  • Frogsmouth or Woolly Waterlily Philydrum languinosum - a light green coloured plant 90 to 120cm, growing in damp waterlogged swamps.  It has fleshy lily-like leavews and its yellow two-petalled flowers look fancifully like a frog's mouth.
  • Cotton tree Hibiscus tiliaceus - a large tree usually found close to water courses or near tidal swamps.  It is so named because aborigines made fishing lines from the fibrous bark.  Pacific Islanders still use the bark for the manufacture of tapa cloth.  The bright lemon distinctly veined flowers are always seen from early Summer to late Winter. 
  • Golden Everlasting Daisies
    • Helichrysum bracteatum - amongst the favourite of the foredunes and have typical daisy flowers 4 to 5cm across which appear in Summer to early Autumn.  Although most common on the foredunes it appears elsewhere in Cooloola.
    • Yellow Buttons Helichrysum semiamplexicaule - another of the daisy family with the small golden glooms about 2cm borne in clusters up to a metre high in December.
  • Geebung
    • Persoonia virgata - common throughout Cooloola.  It is an erect shrub to 2 metres with narrow lime green leaves about 4cm long.  The small yellow flowers nestle in the exils of the leaves and appear like yellow leaves at a casual glance.  Geebung produce round edible green berries about 2cm diameter which were favourites amongst the aborigines who gave them their name.  
    • Persoonia cornifolia - another Geebung with broader pointed leaves is also widespread in Cooloola although not quite so common.
  • Dogwoods.  Two main dogwoods are found in Cooloola.
    • Jacksonia scoparia produces yellow pea-like flowers on a shrub to 3 metres tall during late Winter and Spring.  A a casual glance Dogwood looks like a Casuarina with lighter coloured broom-like folliage.  This is oe of the first plants to colonise the exposed areas of sand in the sandblows.
    • Wallum Dogwood Jacksonia stackhousii - found in the wallum flats on sandy dunes.  It is never more than a few centimetres in hight and has paler coloured flowers.
  • Prickly Moses Acacia ulicifolia - a small rigid shrub of about 1 to 2 metres which lives up to tis name with its angular prickly leaves.  It flowers in May and June with creamy yellow fluffy balls.
  • Christmas Bells  Blandfordia grandiflora - hardly needs any description.  They are common on the open plains of Cooloola during Summer.  The large yellow bell-like flowers are more frequently seen than the red bells.
  • Yellow Peas - of all the wildflowers of Cooloola the most colourful displays are turned on by the various yellow peas.  Because of their generally similar appearance, at a casual glance they are difficult to identify unless great care is taken.  Since it is illegal to pick wildflowers in the National Park it is wise to take reference books into the field and identify them on the spot.
    • Wallun Wedge Pea Gompholobium virgatum - a much branched shrub which produces numerous golden pea flowers (2cm spread) from late Winter to Spring.
    • Poor Man's Gold Gompholobium pinnatum - grows no more than 30cm high.  It has feathery leaves and deep golden yellow flowers and little over 1cm long.  These are seen mainly in Summer, although it may flower at any time.
    • Bitter Pea Daviesia umbellueats - found throughout Cooloola on hillsides and in open Eucalypt forests and flowers profusely in Springtime. Indiviaual flowers are 0.5cm long, dark reddish brown at the base and with a margin of rich golden yellow.  It has prickly foliage with a bitter taste.
    • Snowy Parrot Pea Dilwynia floribunda - the most widely distributed of the Par4rot Peas in Cooloola.  These are characrterised by the standard being broader that it is long.  This pea has bright yellow flowers which are up to 8mm wide.  Although it flowers from late Autumn through Winter its main season is Spring.
    • Eggs and Bacon Aotus ericoides - a twiggy shrub to 1.5 metres high which flowers projusely from late Winter through Spring.  The flowers are about 8mm wide and have red marking at the base.
    • Woolly Aotus Aotus lanigera - has slightly larger yellow flowers which are seen in Spring.  It is also distinguished from the common Aotus by its hairs and by the leaves which lie closer to the stem.
    • Bush Peas Pulteaea sp. are the final group of yellow peas in Cooloola.
    • Pultenea myrtoides - can be seen all through the year although it is at its best in Spring.  In the swamps its yellow flowers grow shoulder high but on the windswept headlands it forms a carpet of yellow flowers.
    • Chaffy Swamp Pea Pultenea paleacea - has dense heads of orange-yellow flowers in late Winter and early Spring.  It grows in the wallum swamps.
    • Hairy Bush Pea Pultenea villosa - has flowers which are massed together on hairy branches in the short Spring season.

Green Wildflowers:

  • Wild Hops Dodonaea triquetra - common in Cooloola, especially on the sandmass and in the foredune area.  They have distinctive winged fruits which give the their name and which, although usually green, may vary in colour to pale pink or almost black.
  • Wallum Bottlebrush Callistemon pachyphyllus - a still erect shrub which grows normally only to about shoulder height.  It flowers intermittently throughout the year, mainly in Spring and Autumn, although it can flower at any tinme.  These bottlebrush flowers may be green or deep crimson in colour.
  • Giant Sedge Gahnia sieberana - towers to 2 metres and is easily the most conspicuous of the sedges with its dark broom-like flower.



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