Verticordia, a genus of the Myrtaceae family, are woody shrubs with small and exquisite flowers. They are mostly found in Southwest Australia, with several outlier species in northern regions. A revision of the genus in 1991 produced a classification within Verticordia of 3 subgenera, 24 sections, and 101 species. Verticordia are highly diverse in form, occupy a wide variety of habitat, and may be abundant or rare species. Their profuse and striking display of intricate flowers have been harvested for floristry and admired as a wildflower.
The genus is part of the Myrtaceae family which exist, predominantly, in the southern hemisphere. The family was highly successful in southern Jurassic Gondwana, remaining as the highly diverse tree and woody shrub genera found in Australia. Verticordia are native to Western Australia and the Northern Territory, and are closely related to Chamelaucium, Rylstonea, and Darwinia. The genus Homoranthus, found in other states of Australia, contains two species previously supposed to be Verticordia.
The single flowers are often presented erect, these may be supported individually or grouped into tight displays of various arrangements. They may appear in succession or at once. The colour often varies as the flower ages, further adding to a painterly effect. The sepals are divided into lobes, with the exception of Verticordia verticordina, in a variety of thread-like or feathery forms. The colour of the sepals and petals is highly diverse, it may be solid, or variable, or mutable.
These may be of several colours, or solid, the striking combinations are of all colours except blue. There is no unisexual flowers in the species. Different species may be growing together, their massed displays creating painterly contrasts in flowering landscapes.
They are highly variable in appearance, often as a woody shrub, low or up to 2 metres, two tropical species are 7 metres. Branches may be upright or splayed out, sometimes pendulous, and are tightly or sparsely arranged. Leaves are very small or medium, scattered or opposite, and might be ciliated at the margin. The leaf shape is highly variable across, and these may differ at the base and floral leaves on individuals.
They are generally somewhat difficult to grow in cultivation, but some success has been achieved. The most reliable species is V. Plumosa, the Plumed Featherflower, but many other species are found in highly specialised habitat. Outside of their natural habitat Verticordia have shown consistently good results in the temperate regions of Australia. All species require excellent drainage and prefer Mediterranean-type climate of very dry summers and wet winters.
The cultivation of Verticordia in the Eastern states of Australia has proved difficult; many of the species are intolerant of the wet summers of those regions, especially with regard to root or collar rot and moulds and mildew. The successes achieved by some growers have been through the use of bell jars, attention to soil types and potting mixes, and, experimentally, the use of grafting onto other related genuses' species such as Darwinia citriodora and Geraldton Wax, Chamelaucium uncinatum.
The genus was made available to taxonomists by the collection of Archibald Menzies, a naturalist attached to HMS Discovery during the Vancouver Expedition, from his collections at King George Sound, Oyster Bay, and the areas immediately inland. These specimens would remain undescribed for 35 years. In 1801-1802, the same region was visited by Robert Brown and Ferdinand Bauer, the naturalists aboard HMS Investigator.
Menzies specimens includes Verticordia plumosa, the second collection gave V. brownii. The species now known as Verticordia cunninghamii was collected by Allan Cunningham in 1920. The species would remain unnamed until 1826, and with the current description the next year. The early collections preceded the establishment of the Swan River Colony in 1829.
The first description of these early collections was by Rene Louiche Desfontaines, who placed the species into the genus Chamelaucium. Candolle identified specimens as a separate genus the next year, the reference appearing in Dictionaire Classique D'histoire Naturelle, the first two species to be described were Verticordia fontanesii and V. brownii in his Prodomus. The species are now known as Verticordia plumosa and Verticordia brownii.
In 1833 Carl von Huegel visited the colony and collected type specimens, those named Verticordia huegelii and Verticordia insignis by Stephan Endlicher. The collections of botanist Ludwig Preiss, a resident of the state, produced the current varieties: V. acerosa var. priessii, V. plumosa var. ananeotes; and the species: V. endlicheriana, V.habrantha, and V. lehmannii. Preiss visited the Molloy plains while staying with the noted collector, Georgiana Molloy, and V. lehmannii and the variety V. plumosa var. ananeotes were probably obtained there.
The taxonomic arrangement of Verticordia, as outlined by George, may be summarised as follows: