FROM the early 1400s, the Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, British and French sailed near the Southwest coast of Western Australia. It was a coastline fraught with danger. Some vessels sought shelter from storms whipped up by the ‘roaring forties’. Some were expeditions, mapping the coast and investigating the landscape and its vegetation. The south-west of Western Australian is a botanist’s paradise and worldrenowned “biodiversity hot spot”. The French biologist Jacques Labillardière sailed with the expedition of D’Entrecasteaux, in 1792. In December the ships encountered severe storms and, exhausted and short of water and food, sought shelter near Esperance Bay. The biologists put their time on land to good use. Labillardière’s vast plant collection included Chorizema illicifolum which “was found with many other plants in a marly soil”. The name for this brilliant flowering plant is aptly named. The Greek word Choris means a dance and Zema means food or a drinking vessel. Labillardière’s botanical collections were published between 1804-1806 and were the first important publications on the botany of plants of Western Australia. There are about 25 species of Chorizema. They are members of the pea family. C. illicifolium is one of the most widely grown. This dense semi-climber reaches around 2 metres x 2 metres, Leaves are variable, but they are often heart-shaped with toothed margins. Flowers are spectacular, borne profusely in loose racemes from September to December. The standard is orange, red and yellow, the keel is purple/pink. There are various other forms, including one with a clear yellow standard. All Chorizema species are suitable as garden or container plants. Chorizema species will grow in most relatively well-drained, moist soils. They enjoy dappled shade or partial sun. Some will tolerate full sun. They should be pruned after flowering to retain a denser form. C. illicifolum may be cultivated successfully from scarified seed. The seeds are tiny and need to be collected as soon as the pods mature. It is advisable to store in the freezer for a few days to kill seed-eating insects. C. illicifolum can also be grown from cuttings.
VIBRANT: Chorizema illicifolum (Holly Flame Pea).