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An evergreen, varying from a shrub of low, spreading habit to a small tree up to 25 ft high; young shoots stout, round, covered with brownish down. Leaves alternate, of stiff leathery texture, usually closely set on the branchlets where some persist for two years. They are of oblanceolate shape, tapered gradually to the base, more abruptly to the apex which may be rounded or pointed, sometimes having two or three large teeth, or sometimes (especially on young cultivated plants) being deeply bilobed, 2 to 5 in. long, 1⁄2 to 13⁄4 in. wide, dullish green above, rather glaucous beneath. Flowers rich crimson, crowded in a terminal head 2 to 3 in. wide, each blossom of much the same shape as those of Embothrium coccineum; the slender curved perianth is about 1 in. long, splitting and showing the conspicuously exposed, curving style 1 to 11⁄4 in. long, with the large knob-like stigma at the end. The flowers are filled with honey and open in June. Seed-pod woody, cylindrical, curved, 2 to 3 in. long, terminated by a ‘tail’ 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 in. long. Bot. Mag., t. 9660.
Native of Tasmania at 2,000 to 4,000 ft, occasionally descending to lower altitudes in the rainiest parts of the country. One writer remarks: ‘the vivid scarlet colouring of the flowers shining out amongst the sombre blue-greens of the gum forests is certainly one of the most beautiful sights the Tasmanian bush affords.’ R. C. Gunn wrote to Kew from Tasmania in 1844: ‘I really think this plant will do well in the open air in Britain; it is only found in the cool mountainous parts of the island and I have tried in vain to coax it to grow in my garden, but the summer heats have always destroyed it.’ This forecast has proved correct, for the Tasmanian waratah does indeed thrive in the British Isles in localities where the rainfall is above average and the soil acid. At Wakehurst Place in Sussex a plant now 18 ft high has lived in a sheltered position for over half a century and flowers and fruits regularly. Somewhat taller examples grow in Ireland. T. truncata is nearly hardy and should survive severe winters in a protected position. It is not shade-loving, and is best placed where its roots are shaded and its head in the sun. It is propagated by seeds or cuttings. For further details see the interesting note by the late Lord Talbot de Malahide in Curtis, Endemic Flora of Tasmania, Part IV (1973), pp. 296-7. According to him, plants with yellow and with creamy yellow flowers have been brought into cultivation in Tasmania.
Seeds of T. truncata were collected by Harold Comber during his expedition to Tasmania in 1929-30, and his interesting account of this species will be found in Gard. Chron., Vol. 93 (1933), p. 27. Contrary to what has been stated, he did not introduce it, nor did he claim to have done so. It received an Award of Merit when exhibited by Mrs Sebag-Montefiore from her garden near Plymouth on May 29, 1934, and a First Class Certificate in 1938, when shown by Lionel de Rothschild of Exbury.
The 18 ft-high specimen at Wakehurst Place, Sussex, died in the drought of 1976, but replacements are already 8 ft high (1985). Seedlings from the yellow-flowered form mentioned on page 571 are growing at Wakehurst Place, but have not yet flowered.
† T. oreades F. v. Muell. Gipsland Waratah. – Near to T. truncata but the branches soon glabrous, the involucral bracts (perules) larger, to 2 in. long, these and the rachis glabrous. (In T. truncata the perules are 1 in. or slightly more long, and tomentose, as is the rachis). Bot. Mag., t.8684 and n.s., t.851.
Native of Victoria and New South Wales; introduced by the Rev. A. T. Boscawen to the Ludgvan Rectory, Penzance, in 1910. The plants at Wakehurst Place are from seeds collected in the wild in 1968, which were raised at Kew and transferred in 1973. After reaching about 8 ft, they were cut back in the cold weather of early 1985 but grew again strongly the following summer.
† T. mongaensis Cheel – This is doubtfully distinct from T. oreades and is included in it by M. Crisp in the article accompanying the second plate in the Botanical Magazine. Plants at Wakehurst Place under this name are from seeds collected in the wild and were transferred to the garden from Kew. They agree with the original description in being shrubby and many-branched, and in their smaller, obscurely veined leaves. The type-locality lies some way to the north of the main range of T. oreades, and it may be that this waratah deserves recognition as a variety or subspecies. The Wakehurst plants, growing in a more sheltered position than T. oreades, were unharmed in the winter of 1985.
One of the characters attributed to T. mongaensis was the more or less lobed leaves. But this is shown in some degree by T. oreades and even, at least on cultivated plants, by T. truncata.
The third (or fourth) species of Telopea, the famous T. speciosissima, is definitely tender but has flowered in Cornwall.