By Yan Zhang | 14 October 2021
In early February, my wife and I were visiting Lithgow in the Blue Mountains, NSW when we mistakenly drove down a dirt road. Before we realised it, we were lost, but were soon distracted by a group of people standing on a nearby hill who all seemed to be observing something at their feet.
Curiously, we stopped our car and joined the crowd. One of them noticed our puzzlement, pointed to the ground and explained that the crowd was admiring clumps of striking pink flannel flowers, something very rare, and something seen only once in a lifetime.
The group were botanists who had travelled a long way to specifically study these flowers. In a way, we were lucky to meet them as in doing so we became one of the earliest Sydney residents to see the now legendary pink flannel flowers of the Blue Mountains.
In the following months several places in the Mountains were decorated with these flannel flowers and keen flower lovers would descend on the mountains in great numbers to find them.
The flannel flowers’ generic name, Actinotus forsythil, means “bearing rays” and refers to the petal-like bracts surrounding each flowerhead. Apparently, the flowers require extremely specific climatic conditions to germinate. The flowers bloom for one season a year after a fire, and only if there has been a spring rainfall. The seeds will lie in the ground for up to 40 years until the right conditions arrive.
Daisy-like at first glance, they have a distinguished structure – consisting of a cluster (umbel) of tiny pink flowers fringed not by petals, but by 11–12 furry-textured light pink bracts (modified leaves). About 1–3cm across, the flowers grow in spreading clumps to 50cm high, and they like to grow in shallow and skeletal soils on ridges and cliffs.
In my own photography, I rarely take flower pictures, but for these precious treasures I had to make an exception. From February to March, I travelled to the Blue Mountains fourteen times, searching for new flowering locations, observing,
and taking pictures of the flowers.
This photo was captured in Narrow Neck, Katoomba, on one of my many trips. Pink flannel flowers always grow together with burnt brushes, and I think the blooming pink flowers with burnt bushes here represents a symbol of the miracle of renewal following the devastation of 2019’s bushfires.
About the author: Yan Zhang is a Sydney based passionate landscape photographer and an outdoor and mountaineering enthusiast. Yan’s photographs have been published in professional photography, geographic and travel magazines such as Practical Photography, Popular Photography (Chinese), Landscape Photography Magazine, New Zealand Geographic and Colours. Yan is also an editor and regular contributor to the e-Magazine of 1x.com – the world’s largest curated online photography gallery. See more of his work at yanzhangphotography.com.