On a quest to find Christmas Bells

Blandfordia grandiflora doesn’t that sound like some exotic plant found in a far off location somewhere on the other side of the world.

When I was a child I use to dream about going on an expedition into the dense jungles of South America, in a quest for rare orchids. The truth is… I wouldn’t have lasted 5 minutes then or now for that matter, but nonetheless I would dream. What fuelled this was the house my parents rented years ago on the Burleigh beachfront, it had a library of travel, autobiography and real life adventure books. These books were old then, stained with time and had that familiar damp ocean smell, which only added to their mystique. I would spend hours reading these books and dreaming of crossing the Sahara on a camel or boating down the Amazon River. (boating down the Amazon, really…this statement reveals of lot)

Which bring me to my quest for this summer?Christmas Bells

 I love to walk and take photos, and I have always loved plants. Lately I am taking notice of what’s around me, particularly near my feet. Stopping to look at the flora can be very rewarding not only from a photography perspective, but learning about our local history. There’s many a story surrounding Christmas Bells.

In the last few weeks I have discovered wild herbs and flowers that have adorned our Gold Coast dunes and wetlands for hundreds if not thousands of years. In many cases these flowers and herbs were a food source for local indigenous people. They have always been here but I haven’t seen them or should I say… I never took note and I know I’m not alone!

This year I am on a quest to find Christmas Bells (Blandfordia grandiflora) these are flowers which bloom in December and thrive in a number of habitats including swamp land, they like a moist well drained soil. I know I have a recollection seeing them somewhere and when I first saw this photo it only reinforced that belief. Their tall woody stems standing erect with bright red bells and yellow tips seemed familiar but at the time I didn’t recognise their significance.

Christmas Bells History – South East Queensland

According to local history and newspaper articles they blossomed in abundance up to the 1930’s, campers and day trippers from Brisbane would pick these vibrant bells along the highways and swamp lands of the Gold Coast, they were a popular table centre piece.  One of the known areas to pick these flowers in 1920 – 30’s was the stretch of road between Miami (Swamp) and Burleigh Heads. But alas today Miami Swamp no longer exists, the natural habitat of these flowers is long gone.

According to Wikipedia it was a popular specimen cultivated in the glass houses of England, they were fascinated by this exotic flower and Blandfordia was named by English botanist James Edward Smith in 1804 in honour of George Spencer-Churchill, 5th Duke of Marlborough, the Marquis of Blandford.

 Endangered in Queensland

What I’ve read so far indicates that they are not in danger of extinction, but their numbers are reduced, and classified as rare and currently considered an endangered species in Queensland.

Christmas Bells are also found in NSW and I might add that they were much more diligent in looking after their flora than Queensland, placing a heft penalty on picking them in 1930’s, which still applies today.

I want to find these flowers in their natural environment and photograph them, early summer they start to bloom, so if any of you know where you have seen these flowers please let me know.

This is my quest for the summer, to find and photograph Blandfordia grandiflora and hopefully find patches of this unique perennial, which was picked almost to extinction.

A word of warning, don’t pick just point and shoot!

Mother-of-MillionsFor those of you who aren’t familiar with plants, or who don’t take a lot of notice. Be careful you don’t confuse this plant called Mother-of- millions; with Christmas Bells, it’s a pretty plant with many pink bells. However it is a succulent and is classified a weed. It is an ornamental plant originally from Madagascar. It escaped suburban gardens and is leaving it’s plantlets in the millions throughout the country.

There you are, it goes to show you don’t have to travel overseas and battle the jungles and leeches (maybe a leech) and Piranha infested water to find an elusive rare flower, they are here on the Gold Coast somewhere, find them and email me.

Happy Christmas Bell hunting for December… Remember – don’t pick just point and shoot

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