The Flannel flower (Actinotus helianthi) is an Australian native wildflower native to NSW, and found majorly on coastal regions, but also in the Blue Mountains and in the Armidale/Tamworth region. It can be found growing naturally as far north as SE Queensland, and as far south as Bega, NSW.
For the better part of the 20th century the flower was iconic for Australia, and was painted on china, printed on tea towels and even included in the famous May Gibbs Bush Baby series. Over the last 50 years however, the natural stands of Flannel flower have dwindled due to encroaching urban development and wild-harvesting of the flowers. Today you can only find the flower in small pockets of bushland which have been left undisturbed.
The Flannel is often one of the first plants to appear and bloom after a bushfire has been through an area, and in Spring is often found growing at the back of sand dunes on the mid-coast of NSW. The flower prefers sandy well draining soils and requires little water. There are some 50 or more variations of the plant, with some varieties that are frost hardy and able to tolerate extremes of temperatures, while others preferring more temperate conditions. The plant generally lives for only a couple of years in the wild, but cultivated can live for 3 – 4 years. The Flannel flower is a soft bloom, similar to a rose or carnation. It has creamy-white petals (bracts) with green tips. In the wild it can be straggly with small flowers, however under protected cultivation, with nutrition and regular water, it is a spectacular garden plant and cut-flower bloom. As a cut-flower, it has a long vase life of 2 – 3 weeks if kept cool, hydrated and out of direct sun. Florists use it in bouquets, wreaths, and as a wedding flower, mixed with both exotics and other native blooms. The flower is also popular in large bunches for both interior decorating and as a gift for loved ones.
The Flannel flower is on the National Parks and Wildlife Service’s list of protected plants. A licence is required to commercially propagate the flower, and Backcreek Country is so licensed.