05 November 2011

Ptilotus spathulatus forma spathulatus – Pussy-tails

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Ptilotus spathulatus forma spathulatus – Pussy-tails

The Ptilotus genus belongs to the Amaranthaceae family, but this group has been extensively reclassified with most species previously placed in the Trichinium genus and the Amarantaceae family. Plants in Ptilotus have terminal clusters of bisexual flowers and alternating leaves, which collectively separates them from other Amaranthaceae members, plus the larger and often colourful flowers make them the most ornamental.

The often elongated flower spikes have encouraged common names like Pussy-tails, Lamb-tails, Long-tails, etc, whilst plants with shorter spikes are frequently referred to as Mulla Mullas. Most occur in the warmer parts of Australia, especially inland, but several are also found in the Esperance district. Ptilotus spathulatus forma spathulatus can be encountered from the SW portion of the Nullarbor to Albany and north to the Geraldton district. However there is another form or variety (forma angustatus) that also occurs in the Esperance region, but is not as common or widespread.

The two forms of Ptilotus spathulatus differ from each other, by forma spathulatus having flower spikes greater than 2 cm (3/4”) diameter and the tips of the flowers barely projecting beyond the floral hairs. The flower spikes of forma angustatus are less than 2 cm diameter and the flower tips are longer than the floral hairs. Both forms have creamy/green flower spikes.

Ptilotus spathulatus forma spathulatus prefers sandy soils over granite, limestone or gravel, forma angustatus is more common on heavier clay loams. The species name of spathulatus refers to the spoon shaped leaves and the flowering time depends on rainfall/weather conditions, so can be anytime from August to November.