Common name: Sturt’s Desert Pea


swainsona formosa closeup m sealeView image slideshow

Origin of Scientific Name

Genus – after Isaac Swainson (1746–1812), London physician who developed a private botanic garden at Twickenham, England.

species – (Latin) formosus – beautiful, well-shaped; referring to the flower.


This quintessentially Australian native is a prostrate, creeping annual or perennial plant with silky grey-green, pinnate leaves and spectacular large (typically about 90 mm long), scarlet flowers. These flowers appear from June to October in their natural habitat and are typically borne in groups of five or six held up on thick stalks. The centre of these flowers is typically black forming a striking contrast to the petals. There are natural colour variations within this species including pinks, yellows and even an albino form.

Sturt’s Desert Pea occurs naturally in inland areas of all of mainland Australia, except for Victoria. It extends to the coast in Western Australia, north of Shark Bay (where the desert meets the sea).

Swainsona formosa was adopted as the floral emblem of South Australia in 1961 when it was known as Clianthus formosus.

Horticultural tips

  • Easily grown from seed, pre-treated either by soaking in warm tap water for 24 hours or until swollen, or scarifying (abrade the seed coat with rough sandpaper or a file), or nicking (you can use nail clippers).
  • Best sown in situ (in ground or pots), as they do not seem to like root disturbance.
  • Best sown in late October in southern regions of Australia and grown as an annual.
  • Though they thrive in the desert, they appreciate regular summer watering to grow well and flower.

For more horticultural tips view our Plant Notes section.

View in Kings Park

Visit Kings Park and Botanic Garden to see Swainsona formosa in the entrance garden beds to the Western Australian Botanic Garden opposite John Forrest's statue (eastern side) (refer to map).

Want more information?

Refer to the profile for this plant on the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions' FloraBase online herbarium.

Swainsona formosa, Sturt's Desert Pea. Photo: D. Blumer. Swainsona formosa in Kings Park's nursery. Photo: D. Blumer. Sturt's Desert Pea. Photo: D. Blumer.

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