A mass attraction – Actinotus forsythii (pink flannel flower)

By Harry Loots, APS Northern Beaches Group

A media sensation

They have been a media sensation, a boon to the Blue Mountains tourist industry and have kindled a passion for Australian wildflowers. Articles have been written in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian and the Guardian.  Who could have predicted such a floral bonanza 12 months after devastating fires that razed the bush?   

Pink flannel flowers, Actinotus forsythii, have been found growing en masse on exposed flat sandy rock shelves along Narrow Neck west of Katoomba, at Ikara Head off Victoria Falls Road, on Dobbs Drift and Gooch’s Crater north of Lithgow, in the Morton National Park near Bundanoon and along the Sassafras track in the Budawangs. All these locations were severely affected by the 2019–2020 bushfires.

Not rare

Although infrequently seen in abundance, pink flannel flowers are not rare.  As bushfire ephemerals their seeds germinate after fire, responding to bushfire smoke rather than heat.  The smoke-derived chemical karrikinolide is the active ingredient that triggers the plants’ emergence. Exposure to light is also important.

Actinotus forsythii in Blue Mountains

My first sighting

I first came across pink flannel flowers many years ago in the Budawang Ranges to the west of Nowra where there was no evidence of a bushfire.  I found four pink flannel flowers growing in cracks in the sandstone shelf.  The location was extremely exposed to the wind and sun. 

A mass attraction

During the 2019-2020 summer NSW experienced some of the worst bushfires ever. Twelve months later in early January 2021 I saw the first few pink flannel flowers growing in the gully leading to the Farmers Creek Dam No.2 in Lithgow. By late January word had gotten out amongst plant lovers.  On a cold, wet day I drove to Narrow Neck near Katoomba with Lindy Monson. In amongst the burnt banksias there was an extensive display of pink flannel flowers.  It was still a deserted area and National Parks had not yet installed barriers or signs.

Then on a Sunday in early March I was surprised at the traffic encountered on the usually empty Victoria Falls Road.  Large groups of university students had walked from Mount Victoria station and cars were parked in all available spaces 300 metres either side of the Ikara Head track. At the track entrance National Parks had posted signs indicating where the flowers were.  The walk along the track with Lindy and Alix Goodwin was a constant stop and start to make room for long lines of people. 

However, nobody was disappointed with the display on the Ikara Head rock shelf. It was beyond expectation.

 

Alix and Lindy walking down Ikara Head track near Mount Victoria to see the Pink Flannel Flowers (Actinotus forsythii). There were a lot more people doing the same than we expected. I’m sure that there were 100 walkers on the track on this sunny Sunday.
Alix and Lindy near Ikara Head track near Mount Victoria
Are there ever enough Pink Flannel Flowers? They only appear in the mountains occasionally after a big fire. Swarms of people from all over Sydney came to see the Actinotus forsythii on Ikara Head near Mount Victoria. Cars filled the narrow Victoria Falls dirt fire trail. I never thought that I would see so many on a Blue Mountains track.
Actinotus forsythii on Ikara Head near Mount Victoria
Actinotus forsythii
Actinotus forsythii, Blue Mountains

Photographs by Harry Loots. Originally posted on Facebook.

Read more on our plant profile here: https://resources.austplants.com.au/plant/actinotus-forsythii/