Rhaponticum australe (Stemmacantha australe)
I was astonished to hear that this rare and threatened plant had been found growing on a neglected block in Toowoomba a few years ago. It must have been the last city refuge for this plant which would once have been common here. It used to be found on our local red ridges and blacksoils, wherever those very common local trees, mountain coolibah (Eucalyptus orgadophylla) and narrow-leafed ironbarks (E. crebra), are found. In town, gardeners usually mistake it for some kind of milk thistle, and weed it out. In the country, the livestock have done the job instead. So plants growing wild are now very rare indeed.
It is one of those native plants which you’d have to classify as “almost ornamental”. Planted in quantity their spring flowers do make a rather attractive garden statement, with their globe-artichoke-like heads.
Their light brown seedheads have an almost animal appeal. I find myself wanting to pat them on the head like little lambs.
However, they don’t stand up well to rain and wind, and soon look messy. A firm hand with the secateurs is needed to keep the garden looking pretty.
A few heads should always be saved for seed, of course, and they’re easy to reproduce this way.
For those who have enough land to be able to afford some “rough”, this is a good plant to naturalise there, as it provides food for little birds and herbivores.