State emblem under threat from national park wildflower poachers

Painting waratahs

Natasha Funke, ranger at Ku-Ring-Gai chase National Park is painting the stems of Waratahs with blue paint to make them a deterrent to people wishing to pick and sell them.

IT IS NOT a re-enactment of a scene from Alice in Wonderland. The inspiration behind marking waratahs with paint in some of Sydney’s national parks is far from creative; it’s to stop people pinching them.

Volunteers and park rangers rummage through the Ku-ring-gai Chase bushland during spring armed with paintbrushes, to mark the base of waratah blooms with blue acrylic paint.

A National Park s and Wildlife Service ranger, Natasha Funke, said painting the wildflower aimed to stymie poachers from harvesting the flora for commercial sale. The stems can attract up to $20 each.

The spectacular wildflower, which is the state floral emblem, is protected in NSW as a species of high conservation value and pinching them threatens the survival of some populations.

Ms Funke says if waratahs are torn off, they will not flower through the next season. They take five years to flower from seedlings. The species has already disappeared from some suburbs.

“You’re preventing the seeds returning to the bushland, you’re preventing the birds and the animals taking the nectar from them, and you’re preventing people in the park from actually getting to see them.”

Senior field officer Judy Morris said the use of blue paint was the most obvious and undesirable colour. “It’s so [passers-by] can see that [the flower] is not going to look attractive in a vase any more, and they’re less likely to steal it if they know people are looking after it,” she said.

Ms Morris has been painting waratahs for more than 10 years and says the striking red flower, which is in season, is a target for people who want to “pop them in their vase at home”.

“Because they’re gorgeous,” she said. “And they’re not common any more [and] there are not many flowers you can buy that are that size to put in your house.”

They are particularly vulnerable when near roads or suburbia. The flower’s botanical name, telopea, means ”seen from afar”. And the specific name, speciosissima, means beautiful or handsome. “So you have a most beautiful flower seen from afar that people want to take and put in their vase,” Ms Morris said.

Ms Funke is confident the painting method works.

“We have noticed that once they’re painted, people don’t want them, particularly for commercial resale,” she said.

When Ms Morris tells people she’s off to paint waratahs, many expect her to carry a sketch book. But she finds the real thing much more exciting.

”It’s addictive,” she said of the bush-regeneration method. ”Before you realise, it’s morning tea time.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s