This striking flowering plant, the Sturt's Desert Pea (Swainsona formosa), can be found growing in
all mainland states, except Victoria. They are a popular cultivated planting in
Alice Springs, although they can also be found growing naturally through Central
It is a prostrate, low growing, soft-wooded plant with silky
grey-green pinnate foliage (leaflets arranged on each side of a common stalk)
arising from prostrate stems. The leaves and stems are covered with downy hairs.
The flowers are about 9 cm long, and usually arranged in clusters of six to
eight on a short erect stalk. The petals are usually blood red or scarlet in
colour with a glossy 'black boss' at the base of the uppermost petal. There are
known colour variations including white to deep pin, with variation to the
'boss' colour. There is also a rare bi-coloured form where the the 'standard'
uppermost petal is scarlet and the other petals (the wings and keel) white and
the tip edged with scarlet.
The Sturt's Desert Pea can be found growing in red-brown sandy or loamy
soils, in arid woodlands and on open plains.
The original collection of the Sturt's Desert Pea was in 1699 by William Dampier
on Rosemary Island in the Dampier Archipelago.
'a creeping vine that runs along the ground ... and the blossom like a
bean blossom, but much larger and of
a deep red colour looking very beautiful...'
It was Captain Charles Sturt who
noted the occurrence of Swainsona formosa in 1844, whilst exploring
between Adelaide and central Australia. The naming of the plant commemorates the
noted explorer who is famed through inland Australia. The name also denotes the
habitat of the plant, as well as the family Fabaceae (pea family).
The Sturt's Desert Pea was adopted as the
floral emblem of
South Australia on 23 November 1961, under the name Clianthus formosus.
The genus name Swainsona is in honour of Isaac Swainson who maintained a
private botanic garden at Twickenham near London about the year 1789. The
specific name formosa comes from the Latin word for 'beautiful'.
There is some great information on the
Desert Pea from the Australian National Herbarium / Australian National Botanic
You can also check out more information in our
Flora section on the Sturt's Desert Pea.