Sturts Desert Rose
Sturts desert rose has also been known as Darling River rose, cotton rosebush and Australian cotton.
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Native to inland Australia, Sturt’s Desert Rose, a relatively well-known plant “Down Under”, has found its way into gardens and deservedly so, for it makes a fine specimen shrub.
Gossypium sturtianum is the scientific name for Sturts Desert Rose. It is also known as the Darling River Rose, Cotton Rosebush and Australian Cotton, which is probably a more appropriate name as it is actually part of the same plant genus.
(Gossypium) as commercial cotton. It is not even related to the rose, but belongs to the well-known Hibiscus family, Malvaceae, which is widespread in tropical and temperate regions of the world.
Both the common name and the scientific second name, sturtianum, honour the Australian explorer and botanist Captain Charles Sturt (1795-1869), who discovered and first collected it during his journey to central Australia in 1844-45.
The Sturts Desert Rose has been designated the floral emblem of the Northern Territory and appears on stamps and in stylized form on the official flag.
The is a compact, bushy shrub that usually grows from 1-2 m tall and 1-2 m wide (3-6 feet) and has a life cycle of about 10 years. It has dark green, round to oval-shaped leaves that are strongly scented when crushed.
The flowers are hibiscus-like, pink to mauve in colour with a dark red base forming a contrasting centre in each flower. There is also a small cotton spore in the centre of the flower.
Flowers may be up to 12 cm (4.7 inches) in diameter, last only one or two days, and are very attractive to honeyeaters. Flowering is not strictly seasonal, but reaches a peak in late winter. If the plant sets a heavy crop of fruits, it will often cease flowering until the fruits have matured.
The fruit, a small capsule, is about 1 cm (0.4 inches) long and contains many small seeds covered with short silky hairs. However, the hairs covering the seeds are much shorter than the lint of the commercially grown cotton varieties.
These glands contain the substance gossypol which is toxic to all non-ruminant (cud-chewing) animals. This means the shrub has less chance of being eaten.
Basically, Sturts Desert Rose needs well-drained soil, long, hot summers and a sheltered position in full sun. It thrives on full sun and high temperatures. Even slight shading will inhibit flowering.
Highly tolerant to drought, it occurs naturally in sandy or gravelly soils along dry creek beds, watercourses, gorges or rocky slopes. Due to a deep taproot system it is able to reach water deep under the ground.
The plant adapts well to cultivation, particularly in hot, dry climates, but can be grown in more humid areas given ample drainage and sun exposure. In colder climates the plants can be difficult to maintain. Free air circulation around the plant is essential to prevent fungal diseases.
The plant is frost sensitive, but can tolerate light frost. It will remain evergreen if not subjected to severe frosts and responds well to supplementary watering and pruning.
Propagation is relatively easy from both seed and cuttings. Cuttings should be taken from a free-flowering plant (a plant that blooms continually through the growing season) for best results.
Prime seed collection time is February to April, and the ideal time for sowing is autumn or early spring. The seeds of the plant do not function before they are germinated and they remain viable for many years. This means they have more chance of surviving.
Soaking the seeds in water for 16 hours prior to planting may facilitate germination. Seeds can then be spread over a propagating mix and covered with fine gravel. Seedlings should appear within 2-4 weeks.
Sturt’s Desert Rose photo
This plant does not seem very common here, although our climate is well suited. So if you come across one of them make sure you propagate it and you can add a rare beauty to your garden.
Written by Marc Vijverberg
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