The Coffs Coast Advocate/Supplied

Wild christmas bells are for admiring only

CHRISTMAS bells have an image problem.

It is illegal to pick them in the bush; florists are nervous about stocking them; people only want to buy them at Christmas and growers have indignant conservationists throwing themselves in front of the secateurs even when they are picking on their own land.

Blame Governor Phillip for one and reckless flower pickers for the rest.

Australia's first head of government used a drawing of the bells as his first Christmas card.

In fact Christmas bells flower right through summer and are hitting their second major flowering period now.

Australia has four species of Christmas bells, three of them in NSW.

The largest, Blanfordia grandiflora, calls the Coffs Coast home.

The glowing red and yellow blooms of this native flower are carried on tall stems above an insignificant plant with grass-like leaves.

Native flower grower Gordon Dick, who has 80 hectares of Christmas bells country and grows the flowers commercially, says Christmas bells suffer from a sharp seasonal spike in demand.

He said the licences and regulations governing their cultivation and sale often made buyers nervous.

But he still loves them.

Mr Dick, who has had people stop on the road and walk across his paddocks to tell him he should not be picking Christmas bells, says although they are 'hidden plants' in the heath land until they flower, he has seen some patches of bells taller than he is at 178cm (5ft 10in) with huge bells and the further you travel north, the less red in the flowers, until at Fraser Island you can find pure yellow bells.

There are fines for illegal picking of Christmas bells, so when you see them in the bush, admire them and leave them for others to enjoy.

Mr Dick, who sends seeds to botanic gardens overseas, says you can grow them in your garden, but you need to be keen enough to keep the weeds at bay.

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