Floral Emblem of the Northern Territory

Named in honour of Charles Sturt, who collected it during his journey to Central Australia in 1844-45, the Sturt’s Desert Rose has a number of common names including the Darling River Rose, Cotton Rosebush and Australian Cotton. Some of the names reflect that the plant is actually a member of the cotton family and not a rose. The Sturt’s Desert Rose belongs to the Family Malvaceae, Genus Gossypium, which includes commercial cotton. However the hairs that cover the seeds are much shorter than the lint on commercial cotton varieties.

The Sturt’s Desert Rose was proclaimed the floral emblem of the Northern Territory on the 12th July, 1961 by the then Commonwealth Government responsible for the administration of the Territory. Originally called Cienfugosia gossypioides, the Sturt’s Desert Rose is now known as Gossypium sturtianum var. sturtianum. It is also found on the Northern Territory flag in stylised form, although there are two additional petals added to the flag, together with the seven pointed black star in the centre of the flower, representing the six Australian States and the Northern Territory.

Description: The Sturt’s Desert Rose can be a bushy woody shrub, although in poor soil it can be open and straggly. It can grow up to 2 metres in height.

Leaves: The leaves are oval shaped and can vary in shades of green.

Flowers: The flower is borne on a short stalk. The flowers have 5 petals, are mauve in colour, although a pale white variation does occur. There are dark red markings at the centre of the flower. The epicalyx has 3 segments, the style is undivided with a bulge at the end. The style is surrounded by the stamens, except for the part extending above the stamens. The style bulge opens to 5 stigmas.

Habitat: The Sturt’s Desert Rose is an arid zone plant, found growing on stony or rocky ground or in dry creek beds. It can be found in Central Australia, extending into the outback region of South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland.

Visitors to Alice Spring will find them a common planting in the gardens, and can be seen on Anzac HillOlive Pink Botanic Garden and the Alice Springs Desert Park.

  • Scientific classification
  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • Clade: Tracheophytes
  • Clade: Angiosperms
  • Clade: Eudicots
  • Clade: Rosids
  • Order: Malvales
  • Family: Malvaceae
  • Genus: Gossypium
  • Species: G. sturtianum
  • Binomial name: Gossypium sturtianum

More information on the Sturt’s Desert Rose can be found at the Australian National Herbarium / Australian National Botanic Gardens.