Sturt's Desert Pea floral emblem of South Australia growing wild near Port Augusta.

12 Interesting Facts About Sturt’s Desert Pea

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Sturt’s Desert Pea (Swainsona formosa) is an iconic Australian native plant known for its vibrant red leaf-shaped flowers with a black center, known as a ‘boss’. This plant is found throughout the inland arid zones of Australia and is the floral emblem of South Australia.

Sturt’s Desert Pea is a member of the Fabaceae family and has pinnate, grey-green leaves arranged spirally on the main axis of the plant and in two opposite rows on lateral stems. The plant produces stems that can reach up to 2 meters in length and typically blooms from June to March, depending on seasonal rains.

Interesting Facts About Sturt’s Desert Pea

Sturt Desert Pea
Sturt Desert Pea by swampa is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .

1. Named After an Explorer

Sturt’s Desert Pea was named in honor of the explorer Captain Charles Sturt, who first collected the plant in 1844 during his journey through the Australian outback.

2. A Plant of Many Names

Sturt’s Desert Pea is also known as the Painted Lady, Princess of the Desert, and Desert Pea.

3. A Drought Tolerant Plant

Sturt’s Desert Pea is a drought-tolerant plant that can survive in poor, sandy soils and temperatures up to 50 degrees Celsius.

4. A Parasitic Relationship

The roots of Sturt’s Desert Pea form a symbiotic relationship with a fungus, which helps the plant absorb nutrients from the soil.

5. A Slow Grower

Sturt’s Desert Pea is a slow-growing plant, taking up to 18 months to flower from seed.

6. A Plant With Healing Properties

The leaves of Sturt’s Desert Pea were used by Indigenous Australians as a poultice for skin inflammations and infections.

7. A Plant That Attracts Wildlife

Sturt’s Desert Pea attracts bees, butterflies, and birds, providing an important food source in the harsh Australian outback.

8. A Plant With Big Seed Pods

The seed pods of Sturt’s Desert Pea can grow up to 10cm long and contain several pea-like seeds.

9. A Plant That Can Be Propagated

Sturt’s Desert Pea can be propagated from both seeds and cuttings, making it a popular choice for gardeners.

10. A Plant With Cultural Significance

Sturt’s Desert Pea holds cultural significance for Indigenous Australians, representing the tears of a young girl who was turned into a desert pea by the gods.

11. A Plant With Variations

There are several variations of Sturt’s Desert Pea, including Swainsona formosa f. typica, Swainsona formosa f. uniflora, and Swainsona formosa f. biflora.

12. A Plant Worth Celebrating

Sturt’s Desert Pea is celebrated in art, poetry, and festivals, such as the annual Desert Pea Festival in Broken Hill, New South Wales.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I grow Sturt’s Desert Pea at home?

Yes, you can grow Sturt’s Desert Pea at home, although it can be slightly tricky. It requires well-draining soil, full sun, and protection from frost.

How do I propagate Sturt’s Desert Pea?

Sturt’s Desert Pea can be propagated from both seeds and cuttings. For seeds, sow them in a well-draining seed-raising mix and keep them moist until germination. For cuttings, take a 3-4 inch cutting from a healthy plant and root it in a suitable rooting medium.

How much water does Sturt’s Desert Pea need?

Sturt’s Desert Pea is a drought-tolerant plant and requires very little water once established. Water it sparingly, especially during the dormant period.

What soil is best for Sturt’s Desert Pea?

Sturt’s Desert Pea prefers well-draining, sandy soil with a slightly acidic pH. It will not thrive in heavy clay or waterlogged conditions.

How do I care for Sturt’s Desert Pea during winter?

Sturt’s Desert Pea goes dormant during winter, so reduce watering and protect the plant from frost. Prune off any dead foliage and apply a layer of mulch around the base of the plant to insulate the roots.


Sturt’s Desert Pea is a remarkable plant with a rich history, cultural significance, and unique adaptations that allow it to thrive in the harsh Australian outback. By learning more about this iconic wildflower, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the incredible resilience and beauty of nature.

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