Big blue as rangers use paint to stop theft of bumper waratah bloom

A waratah painted blue in Ku-ring-gai National Park.

A waratah painted blue in Ku-ring-gai National Park. Credit:Chelsea Mazzini

“They are just so prolific this year, there are hundreds of them. You just walk along in awe, they’re beautiful.”

The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) has received numerous complaints from bushwalkers who had noticed the flowers were vanishing from bushland in the Royal National Park area.

“This is the first year the National Parks and Wildlife Service has experienced this level of waratah removal from the park,” a spokeswoman said.

“The flowers have mostly been taken where the park is adjacent to the local suburb, which could indicate an impact from more people taking ‘COVID restrictions’ exercise in the areas.

“Waratahs cannot be picked anywhere in the wild in NSW and considerable penalties can apply to anyone caught.”

Rangers and volunteers have been spraying the flowers with blue paint to deter people from pinching them to display at home.

Rangers and volunteers have been spraying the flowers with blue paint to deter people from pinching them to display at home. Credit:Linda Williams

Commercial supply chains for waratahs were well-established, which meant people were likely picking the flowers to display at home, the spokeswoman said.

She said rangers and volunteers had been spray-painting the underside of the stems with non-toxic blue paint to make them less attractive to looters.

Dr Brett Summerell, who is chief botanist at the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney, said the vast areas of waratahs flowering this season signalled areas that had been destroyed by fire, some in the Black Summer blazes.

“Usually 18 months after they’ve been burnt you’ll see lots and lots of waratahs and then over the next five, or six, or seven years the numbers produced each year will diminish.

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“It takes some time for the plant to grow and produce the flowers, a lot of energy goes into producing those flowers.”

He’s spotted “spectacular” displays of the flowers in parts of the Blue Mountains that were scorched by the Black Summer fires.

Dr Summerell said picking waratah blooms prevented the plant reproducing as the flowers turned into pods which released seeds to germinate. This in turn would prevent new plants from growing and reduce genetic diversity.

“It’s important to let them go through their full cycle normally, but especially so now that they’ve suffered this big impact from the bushfires.

“The best thing to do is go and have a look at them, but just to take a photo and not be tempted to take off the flower.”

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