Doryanthes palmeri

Giant Spear Lily

Family: Doryanthaceae

This Spear Lily is a large monoctyledonous species with large leaves formed in a basal whorl or rosette.

It grows naturally in the very far northern corner of NSW on the north coast, south-east of Murwillumbah, on the Mt Warning Caldera. It extends into Queensland, extending towards Sprinbrook and to the north of Killarney and possibly extending to Toowoomba and Brisbane.

It is found in wet sclerophyll forest on rocky (volcanic) outcrops.

It is listed as threatened with extinction in NSW.

Leaves are simple and very large, to 3 metres long and to 0.2 metres wide, without hairs, mid to light green in colour. These arise from ground level and form a large dense clump.

Flowers are produced on a tall scape to 5 metres tall which tends to eventually bend over once in flower. The scape has shorter and narrower leaves to 30 cm long. Flowers are produced in a elongated raceme to 120 cm long, bearing multiple red or reddish-brown flowers with each flower consisting of 6 perianth segments or tepals (3 petals and 3 sepals which are undifferentiated); each about 6 cm long with flowers being around 15 cm across overall, occurring in spring.

Flowers are followed by capsules, to 9 cm long, with winged seeds about 2 cm long.

In the garden

A slow growing but fairly reliable plant that suits large gardens. Fairly drought tolerant and attracts birds and beads who love the nectar. It grows in well drained sites as far south as Melbourne and tolerates frost.

It is an excellent feature plant, particularly when in flower. Cut off dead heads when finished, although these also make a great feature. It comes from a region with high annual rainfall (1600– 2500 mm) and so responds well to extra watering.

Flower spikes often take a number of years to actually flower (10 according to some sources).

It prefers full sun and is suited to most soils. Give some room to expand and flower.


Can be propagated from seed or by dividing the clump. However, as it grows as from a rhizome with contractile roots (to protect the plant from fire and drought), it may need fire to germinate.

Other information

Doryanthes palmeri was used by First Nations Peoples of Australia for both roasting the flower spikes and the roots mashed and made into cakes. The leaves were used for weaving.

Doryanthes is an Australian endemic genus of two species. Both species occur in NSW with one in Queensland.

Doryanthes – a composite of two Greek words, dory (δόρυ), meaning “spear”, and anthos meaning “flower” – capturing the flowers on the end of a spear-like scape.

palmeri — derivation not stated by the original author of the species; but given in subsequent references as honouring Sir Arthur Hunter Palmer (1819-1898), a former Premier of Queensland.

It is listed as threatened in the wild in NSW (classified as vulnerable) due to its limited distribution. It is threatened by weeds, frequent fire and illegal seed harvesting.

Australian National Herbarium – Doryanthes palmeri profile page      http://www.anbg.gov.au/gnp/interns-2012/doryanthes-palmeri.html

NSW Office of Environment and Heritage – Threatened Species Profiles –                              Doryanthes palmeri profile page https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/threatenedspeciesapp/profile.aspx?id=10249

Wrigley, J.W. & Fagg, M.I. (2001). Australian Native Plants – Propagation, cultivation and use in landscaping. 4th edition. New Holland Publishers, Pty. Ltd. Australia.

NSW Flora Online (PlantNET) – Doryanthes palmeri profile page      https://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Doryanthes~palmeri

By Heather Miles. Editing and additional text by Dan Clarke.