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Northern Territory

Sturts Desert Rose or Gossypium Sturtianum


Floral Emblem of the Northern Territory

On 12 July 1961, Sturt's Desert Rose was proclaimed* floral emblem of the Northern Territory by the Commonwealth Government which was then responsible for the administration of the Territory. Proclamation was made using the name Cienfugosia gossypioides which is now replaced by the name Gossypium sturtianum var. sturtianum. In an Executive Statement in June 1975, the Majority Leader in the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory confirmed this species as the floral emblem. Since the granting of self-government to the Northern Territory in 1978, Sturt's Desert Rose has been incorporated into various insignia and so become symbolic of the region.

Sturt's Desert Rose has also been known as Darling River Rose, Cotton Rosebush and Australian Cotton. Although less widely used, the vernacular name, Australian Cotton, is appropriate as this species belongs to the genus Gossypium, which includes commercial cotton. However the hairs covering the seeds are much shorter than the lint of commercial cotton varieties.

The generic name Gossypium, is derived from the Latin 'gossypion', used by Pliny for the cotton tree, Gossypium arboreum. The specific and varietal names, sturtianum, honour Captain Charles Sturt (1795-1869). The species was first collected by Sturt "in the beds of the creeks on the Barrier Range" during his journey to central Australia in 1844-45. The specimens were "placed at (the) disposal" of the Scottish botanist, Robert Brown (1773-1858), who described the plant in 1849 and named it Sturtia Gossypioides. In Brown's opinion "Sturtia is no doubt very nearly related to Gossypium". The species has undergone several changes in name, and in 1947 J.H. Willis of the National Herbarium of Victoria proposed the name by which it is currently known, Gossypium sturtianum var. sturtianum. The precise number of species of the genus Gossypium worldwide is uncertain, being the subject of controversy among taxonomists - current opinions range from about 20 to 70. The genus is distributed in tropical and sub-tropical areas of Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas. Gossypium belongs to the hibiscus family, Malvaceae, which is widespread in tropical and temperate regions of the world.

In its natural habitat, Sturt's Desert Rose forms a relatively compact shrub about a metre in height but may reach 2 metres in cultivation. The leaves are dark green usually with black stipples, entire, round to oval in shape and about 5 cm long. The mauve petals are about 5 cm long with red bases forming a contrasting centre in each flower. Flowering is not strictly seasonal but reaches a peak in late winter. The fruit, a capsule, is about 1 cm long and contains many small seeds covered with short silky hairs.

Sturt's Desert Rose occurs naturally on stony or rocky slopes, or in dry creek beds in the southern part of the Northern Territory, north-eastern South Australia, western Queensiand, western New South Wales and in parts of northern Western Australia. go next page