A favourite shrub in my woodland garden is the spikey Australian native shrub Lambertia Formosa. It was once known as the honey flower, but today is more usually called Mountain Devil. It is related to the proteas.
The shrubs grow to about 2 metres. They are great for small birds, as the prickly foliage offers good protection. In fact, all the honeyeaters love the nectar, including parrots and rosellas..
Icecream for a crimson rosella.
It is not just birds who enjoy the nectar of the flowers. They have always provided a sweet addition to the diet of Australian Aborigines. After white settlement, escaped convicts on the run made good use of them, as did explorers such as Ludwig Leichhardt, who wrote; ‘Often when I’ve been tired and thirsty , I’ve bitten off the base of a tuft of Lambertia formosa flowers to suck the delightfully sweet honey out of them.’ I tried some myself today, and yes…..it’s really nice.
There is something quite stylish about the flowers. They make me think of the Melbourne Cup, and the current fashion for fascinators.
Perfect for the Melbourne Cup.
Of course the most intriguing thing about the plant is the horned, woody seed capsules. These are what gave rise to the name Mountain Devil.
For many years visitors to the Blue Mountains would return home with devilish little souvenirs made from the capsules. Some regarded them as good luck charms. Locals usually gathered their own raw materials in the bush, but the going rate for good quality capsules was 6d a dozen. All that was needed then were pipe cleaners and fragments of cloth.
The photo below shows dozens of little Mountain Devil characters They were made in the 1960s by the ladies and their friends for a fete, raising funds for the Newtown Public School in Sydney.
Labour of love.
The ladies even produced a rather creepy little bride doll. She looks a bit like Miss Havisham, from Dickens Great Expectations.
The old craft was revived recently, in a most charming way. Passengers at Woodford railway station found that an anonymous artist had fashioned some of the familiar little red devils and pinned them to the notice board. They were free for the taking, and came with information slips. Equally heart warming was that recipients responded with thank-you notes.
I must emphasise that the artist did not remove the seed capsules from the bush, which is prohibited. The plants are now cultivated, and available from nurseries.
In my garden I have to compete with the crimson rosellas for the seed capsules. They love them,
The flower makes a fine ‘star’ atop a banksia serrata Christmas tree.
THE DEVIL SHOULD RULE, DOWN WITH THE WATTLE!
In 1923 an editorial appeared in which Lambertia Formosa was even touted as Australia’s national flower;
It is a sweet and most glorious thing – the most lovely, in fact, of all Australian flowers. It should have been adopted as emblematical of everything that is good in Australia, instead of the yellow, shapeless wattle flower. The honey-flower has seven anthers – some call them stamens – which would have represented the stamina of the seven states of Australia. It is tridentiform, symbolical of the sea power that Australia must and should possess in common with that little country that rules the waves – more power to her.
Oh good heavens, I’m not sure those sentiments would go down well these days.
UPDATE – On a somber note…..have you noticed that the poor Mountain Devil flower resembles the wretched Coronavirus?
SECOND UPDATE – You can buy the little ‘devil dolls’ from the Blackheath Newsagency. They have been made for many years by ‘Nana’ Birrell. Here is mine;