It has become something of a global meme to point out the extreme biodiversity and strange animal species that are present in Australia and nowhere else, but that diversity actually scales way above and beyond just animals and into plant life too. Australia is home to lots of unique and interesting plant species, some of which you might be familiar with from your back garden, others you might be happy to have never encountered.
This is one of the more common cycads, a type of palm-like tree, in Australia. The burrawang is short and stout, with long spiky fronds protruding from its truck which looks like a massive pine cone. There isn’t anything particularly weird to see with a cursory glance of the burrawang, but it is its seeds which are worth writing home about. If you crack open the dull brown exterior of a burrawang seed cone, you’ll be greeted with the surprising sight of lots and lots of large red seeds. These seeds more closely resemble pomegranate seeds than other cycads – although I wouldn’t go and eat them, they’re more than a little poisonous.
This small orchid really isn’t much to look at. In fact, it more resembles a dead beetle or a smile pile of dirt, than what might be more commonly thought of as a flower. Despite its surface looks there is actually something that I find quite endearing about this little orchid. Maybe it is how its leaves look like a plate presenting the offending flower, or how it can grow in patches that give the impression of scattered horse dung. Who knows? All I can say is that there is something I like about a plant from a famously beautiful and vibrant family looking so pathetically drab – it’s almost like the one weird cousin every family has.
It plays a large part in jokes about Australia, but there is no escaping the fact that as countries go, we have more than our fair share of dangerous, often poisonous or venomous wildlife. That, naturally, extends to the plants as well. The Gympie-Gympie tree is covered in lots of small silica hairs that can puncture the skin and deliver one of the most painful stings of any plants. Not something you want to be touching. To make things worse the pain from the stings can even last for years after the initial sting. So, in short, try to avoid letting a Gympie-Gympie get anywhere near touching you.
Flying Duck Orchid
To round out this list, I thought it’d be nice to end on something altogether more pleasant than a poisonous tree or a flower that looks like a pile of dung. The Flying Duck Orchid is, as orchids go, a little dull when it comes to colour, but it is its striking flower formation which makes it noteworthy. The flower of this orchid clearly resembles a duck in flight, which surprise, surprise, is where its name comes from.
To me, this plant helps to summarise Australia as a whole: sure, we might have more than our fair share of dangerous plants and animals, but there is also incredible beauty and downright weirdness to be found all across this country. I mean, where else would you find a flower that looks like a flying duck?