Wildflowers prove hidden gems for WA farmers beside Fitzgerald River National Park

Chris Biddulph is eagerly awaiting the next few weeks.

Outside, his crop of canola is already blooming a vibrant yellow.

But the farmer on West Australia’s South Coast really lights up when talking about a far less conspicuous plant, occasionally spotted in the region.

“The Queen of Sheba [orchid],” he says.

“[It’s] not seen very often, but it’s brilliant when you do see one. The colours of purple and gold are absolutely brilliant.”

For Mr Biddulph and his wife Jen, wildflowers form an integral part of their crop and sheep farm’s DNA.

Just west of Ravensthorpe, their property hugs the Fitzgerald River National Park — an internationally renowned biodiversity hotspot.

“There are several thousand species there,” Mr Biddulph said.

“We’ve probably got similar numbers here on the farm.”

Every year the couple help supply the local wildflower show, sourcing the myriad species from the 250 hectares of virgin bushland that remains on their property.

A strategic decision
After buying the 2,500ha property in the 1970s, Mr and Mrs Biddulph decided to leave numerous shelter belts.

“Strategically, we left creeklines and hilltops, rocky outcrops, which did help to slow the wind during those dry years,” he said.

“So that’s where the wildflowers have come from.”

But apart from producing many attractive wildflowers, the remnant bush has also benefited the overall health of the cropping operation.

“The natural vegetation uses a lot more water than our monocultural farming systems,” Mr Biddulph said.

“These [uncleared] areas do actually prevent salt encroachment further down the downslope because they’re using water upstream … you’re actually holding up the water and getting better use out of the areas you do crop.”

Mr Biddulph said he would not clear any more land on their property, even if it was permitted.

“It’s good to see some of our nature still growing,” he said.

“Other parts of the Wheatbelt and Great Southern have been totally cleared and not enough has been preserved of our natural history.”

Promising signs for festival
Beginning September 12, the 2022 Ravensthorpe Wildflower Show will attract visitors from across the country and abroad as it celebrates its 40th year.

Mrs Biddulph, the event’s president and a registered flower picker, said strong rainfall over autumn and winter was good news.

“We’ve had a few years of drought, so the bush is starting to recover this year,” she said.

“So we’re expecting good numbers of flowers and in good condition.”

And her personal favourite?

“I love the cauliflower hakea,” she said.

“It’s the most unusual plant and it started to flower in July.I just love it for its uniqueness.”