Swainsona formosa

Nearly 4 years ago, on 6 March 2006, we selected from our Flickr Pool a photo of Swainsona formosa for Botany Photo of the Day. Heather from Adelaide, Australia took that picture, the entry for which you can access here. Today, we feature a lovely specimen of S. formosa that left Australia and made its way across the Pacific to the small greenhouse behind our shop.

Like the other Australian plant featured on Botany Photo of the Day this week, Daviesia rhombifolia, Swainsona formosa is a member of Fabaceae. The species is easily distinguished by the deep-red petals of its clustered, spring- and summer-blooming flowers, and by the typically black centre (or boss) around which these petals are arranged. Plants' main stems—which, in certain areas (the Pilbara region), reach to a height of around 2 metres—put forth spirally arranged pinnate leaves of pale green, while on the lateral stems the leaves are arranged in two opposite rows. The species' sexual apparatus, which is hidden by the keel, consists of 10 stamens (9 of which are joined and one of which stands free) and a single ovary. The fruit is a legume that contains about 50 seeds, and in the wild birds are the species' primary means of propagation. In terms of its appearance, S. formosa—which thrives in arid desert habitats—is fairly distinct amongst its relatives, which include the white-keeled 'marginata' and the pink-bossed 'elegans' cultivars.

The botanist George Don named the genus Swainsona in honour of Isaac Swainson, the 18th and early 19th century owner and operator of a large botanical garden in Twickenham, England. Specimens were first collected in the late 17th century by the botanist William Dampier, and the common name honours the explorer Charles Sturt, who reported having seen large quantities of the plant while on expedition in 1844.

A reclassification of the species as Willdampia formosa was proposed in the last years of the 20th century, but the suggestion was generally rejected by the scientific community. The species is the adopted emblem of South Australia, and it is frequently featured in visual and verbal art. Though the plant is notoriously difficult to grow, ambitious gardeners should know that some have had success when treating specimens as annuals, and when growing them in deep containers exposed to full sun.

This is my final entry of the summer. I would like to express my gratitude to you all for your helpful contributions, which made of this daily responsibility an unalloyed pleasure. The site seems to me a genuine celebration of curiosity and learning, and I hope that it continues to thrive in the coming years, perhaps through each of you extending its general mood out into other arenas of contemporary social life as well.

Swainsona formosa

45 responses to “Swainsona formosa”

  1. bev

    Thank you for a WONDERFUL job this summer!

  2. Nancy

    These photos and commentary are a highlight of my day. You have been inspirational!…as well as educational.

  3. Claire B (Saskatoon)

    Stunning picture as usual and very informative write-up. Thanks, Stephen, for a great summer!

  4. Viola

    Today’s entry reminds me of the male cardinal; each is stunning in its own realm.
    Many thanks, Stephen, for the daily delights you have brought to us. All good wishes.

  5. Annie

    Dear Steven, These photos and your words have brought me such pleasure. Thank you for your daily effort. I hope to see more next growing season.

  6. Julie

    Thank you Steven,
    What a great summer of visual horticultural and botanical magic!
    Best to you,

  7. Sue Webster

    A good job well done, Stephen! Thank you.

  8. annie morgan

    Thank you, Stephen, for your charming and always informative write-ups. I do hope we see you again, and till then – much success in your endeavours.

  9. Mary Ann, in Toronto

    What a gorgeous, exotic flower! Like something from another planet.
    Fare thee well, Stephen.
    Your entries have been a delight this summer — I’ve looked forward to them every day. Beautiful images, along with your elegant and literate write-ups. A wonderful job you’ve done.
    All the best.

  10. Susan Gustavson

    I’ve really enjoyed the photos and comments. Thanks for doing this.

  11. Earl Blackstock

    Hello Stephen,
    Thank you for your efforts to keep this site running over the summer. I’m sorry but lifes too short not to enjoy the beautiful flowers on a daily basis. Thank you so very much.

  12. Meg Bernstein

    Thanks for all your efforts with these wonderful photos.

  13. Wendy

    Well Stephen it seems as if you may have only upped the stakes for whoever has to follow you, but the summer was wonderful. Thanks!

  14. Sheila

    Thank you Stephen.
    You have done a brilliant job with excellent write ups for BPD this summer.
    Good luck for your future.

  15. Sheila

    Heather, that is just a stunning pic. Thank you so much.

  16. elizabeth a airhart

    we shall miss you Stephen you are au fait
    thank you for keeping us together
    we wre a wordly and wordy group
    keep in touch now

  17. Shirley Gladish

    What a wonderful recording through the season of beauty and variety in the plant world. Thanks for such joy each day

  18. Pam Crider

    Thank you for the wonderful photos and information.

  19. MsWinterfinch

    Stephen, your are going out with a blast of colour!
    Some very extraordinary flowers with fine explanations you’ve shared with us will be missed.
    Thank you!

  20. chico

    Stephen, thank you so much for all of your efforts this summer. The photos have been such a joy to view each day, and the information provided has been invaluable. Thank you for broadening our worlds. I think I have enjoyed the posts almost as much as the flowers themselves, both pleasant reminders of all of the interesting plants AND people in this world.

  21. Mary Ann, in Toronto

    This is indeed an interesting and lovely plant.
    An image search produces some great photos of the whole plant:
    Some common names are “Sturt’s pea” or “Sturt’s desert pea” — the photos reveal why.
    Farewell and thank you again, Stephen.

  22. jackie

    Thank you for all your efforts! You have really been educating me and giving me daily bits of beauty as well.

  23. MIke S

    You did a GREAT JOB with this project. Thank you for your time and enthusiasm that was readily reflected in all your postings.
    Good luck in the future.

  24. Petra

    This site is a daily pleasure, and reminds me of the glorious world of living things beyond our graduate office 🙂 Many many thanks.

  25. Joyce Bratich

    Dear Stephen,
    I came across your site only in mid-July and have enjoyed it so much since then. Thank you for posting the beautiful photos and for your informative write-ups. They have broadened my knowledge and appreciation of the plant world.
    With all best wishes,

  26. Joyce Bratich

    Dear Stephen,
    I came across your site only in mid-July and have enjoyed it so much since then. Thank you for posting the beautiful photos and for your informative write-ups. They have broadened my knowledge and appreciation of the plant world.
    With all best wishes,

  27. Joyce Bratich

    Dear Stephen,
    I came across your site only in mid-July and have enjoyed it so much since then. Thank you for posting the beautiful photos and for your informative write-ups. They have broadened my knowledge and appreciation of the plant world.
    With all best wishes,

  28. Sara

    Oh, what a beautiful flower for your swansong! Thank you teaching me how to appreciate the natural beauty of the world.

  29. Lynne

    Thank you, Stephen. I very much enjoyed reading your writeups.

  30. Mandy Macdonald

    Stephen, i add my voice to many others, i see — the photographs and your splendid descriptions (especially the mythological bits — i’m a classicist by education)have made many a day for me this summer. Many thanks and all best wishes for the future.

  31. Charles Hines

    Thank you for a great job. I have enjoyed, and learned from, every one of your posts. Thanks again!

  32. Don Fenton

    Yes, Stephen, thank your for your wonderful contributions. For those who despair of cultivating Sturt’s Desert Pea, it is a desert-dweller which gets, over most of its range, what small amount of precipitation is available during the Winter months. But I have seen it cultivated sucessfully under climatic conditions where it should not possibly succeed. And the horticultural varieties which have been developed are generally easier!

  33. George Vaughan

    Stephen, the pictures have been, for me, a much needed early morning look into the plant world. Thank you for sharing the pictures and the education as well. I wish you much success in your future endeavors.

  34. Joyce

    Thank you, Stephen!

  35. Maureen

    Dear Stephen,
    I have so much appreciated your efforts and those of others who submitted outstanding photos and information. Our world is truly a place of wonder and deserves all of our protection.
    Be well and happy

  36. Quin

    Hear hear!!! And best of luck with your future endeavors…….

  37. Barb Mullinix

    Thank you so much–what an interesting and varied series this has been. Can’t wait until these start appearing in my mailbox again. Will that happen automatically when the new growing season starts?

  38. Alina

    Hi Stephen,
    Thanks for such great daily treats!
    Good luck and best wishes,

  39. Martha Degasis

    Your descriptions were nothing short of poetry, I believe I enjoyed them more than the photos themselves! Please choose a career path where others can appreciate your considerable writing skills. Best regards

  40. plantgrl

    Beautiful writing Stephen. I will miss your daily entries as they are a presence that brightens my day.

  41. Melissa

    This beautiful flower (& photo thereof) reminds me of blown glass.
    You’ve done a wonderful thing for us this summer – entertaining, informative not only botanical, but cultural and historical. Thank You, Stephen!

  42. Aminu Abubakar Chiranchi

    thank you realy did great job am glad.

  43. Deborah Lievens

    Hi Stephen, Thanks for your efforts to keep us BPotD junkies going this summer. I know I appreciated it.

  44. Barbara Lamb

    Thank you for sharing these plants and for your eloquent write-ups!

  45. A, Swainson

    A, Swainson (Perth) awesome photo, stunning plant|

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