The Sydney flannel flower (Actinotus helianthi) is commercially cultivated as a cut-flower and also as a garden plant. There are more than 50 different wild variations of flannel flower, with differences in length of stem, size of bloom, number of blooms, frost tolerance, and flowering season. It occurs naturally from central and south east Queensland (Carnarvon and Isla Gorges) down to the south coast of New South Wales and out to western slopes of northern New South Wales (the Pilliga Scrub).
Complemented by its soft silvery grey-blue foliage, flannel flower is well suited to the cut-flower market as it is one of the few soft Australian wildflowers, which works well in floral design by itself, with other wildflowers, or combined with exotic flowers such as roses and lilies. It has proven to be popular for weddings and speciality floral designs. Flannel flower is sold in a variety of stem lengths, from 25cm all the way up to 80cm.
Importantly for cut flowers, flannel flowers have a long vase life, sometimes up to three weeks if the cold chain is maintained
Flannel flower was prolific in the bushland around the Sydney basin in the 1950’s, and was at that time a regular cut-flower and was represented on tea towels, china and needlepoint. Commercial cultivation commenced in the early 1990s when the flower became popular in Japan.
Research on the species increased after 1995 and led to substantial improvements in the understanding of propagation and cultivation of the plant and increased production of the flower as a crop. There are now a number of varieties grown all year round undercover providing superior product to field-grown flannel flower. Strong demand for high-quality product exists both domestically and overseas in Japan, the United States and Europe.
Flannel flower is best treated as a three year crop. The biggest barrier to date has been obtaining the needed quantity and quality seedlings, with only a few propagators in operation in Australia. Major problems encountered in growing this crop involve soil drainage and root diseases, but these can be overcome by growing plants in containers in simple greenhouses or under crop covers.
The wildflower industry body is WildFlowers Australia, which represents a diverse range of industry participants, including growers, buyers, wholesalers, exporters and importers, and research and extension specialists.
Facts and figures
- The Sydney flannel flower (Actinotus helianthi) has more than 50 variations and is the only species that is commercially cultivated
- Flannel flower is a versatile cut flower, attractive as a feature flower or as a popular filler, mixed with wildflowers and also with soft exotics
- Flannel flowers are cultivated commercially throughout the natural range of the plant, but particularly in coastal areas of southern Queensland, and New South Wales
- Flannel flowers may be grown in the ground in raised beds in well-drained soil; higher quality blooms are obtained by growing them undercover in pots filled with growing media to ensure drainage and moisture levels are optimised
- Botanically speaking, the petals of the flower are not actually petals, but leaf-like structures called bracts. These surround the central dome which is a mass of individual tiny florets
It is estimated that there are 30 growers of Flannel flower in Australia, and the majority grow the flower as just one of 5–20 different wildflower crops.
Looking at the overall industry, Australian wildflowers are grown mainly in Western Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and south east Queensland. Industry statistics do not provide grower or production information at an enterprise level for flannel flowers, though it is a small fraction of this amount.