An initiative of Earthwatch Institute

  1. 235 Roadside Sturt's Desert Pea photo courtesy Biota Environmental Sciences
  2. 235_0 Flowering photo courtesy Biota Environmental Sciences
  3. 235_1 Flowering close up photo courtesy Biota Environmental Sciences
  4. Pods_by_bill_and_mark_bell-001 Pods (10-12mm in length) by Bill & Mark Bell

Sturt's Desert Pea

Swainsona formosa


  • Size: Low spreading ground cover up to 3m wide and 30cm high.
  • Leaves: Dull green leaves are made up of 7 pairs of oval-shaped leaflets.  Stems leaves and pods are covered in short soft hairs.
  • Flowers: Red flowers are arranged in upright stalks in groups of 3 or more.  Each flower is up to 9cm from the top of the standard to the base of the keel.  The standard is the large petal with the black dome at its base.  In some plants the dome may be red and albino varieties with completely white flowers have been found in the Pilbara.
  • Pods: The pods are hard and light brown when ripe and if shaken the seeds rattle inside them.

What to Observe

  • How Many plants
  • First fully open single flower
  • Full flowering  
  • End of flowering (when 95% of the flowers have faded)

ClimateWatch Science Advisor

We expect plants to start shooting and flowering earlier in the year as a result of climate change warming the Earth. They may also start appearing in new areas, as warmer temperatures enable them to live in environments that were previously too cold for them.

When To Look

June to October for flowering

Where To Look

Found from the North-western coast, east into the desert and south to Kalgoorlie and the Nullabor Plain.  It is also found in all other Australian states.

Stuart's Desert Pea distribution map - ANBG

Sturt's Desert Pea distribution map - ANBG

Where To Look

Maps of Habitat Suitability


Current probability
of occurrence
2070 probability
of occurrence (RCP 8.5)
Species range change from
current to 2070 probability

Above, the left and middle maps show the modelled habitat suitability for the the species under current and potential future climate conditions. The colours indicate the predicted habitat suitability from low (white) to high (dark red).

The future habitat suitability is modelled for the year 2070 under a climate change scenario that represents 'business as usual' (RCP 8.5). The map on the right shows how the range of the species might change between now and 2070, with orange areas indicating where the species might disappear, green areas where the species range might expand, and blue areas where the habitat is predicted to be suitable for the species now and in the future.

The models for this species were run in the Biodiversity and Climate Change Virtual Laboratory. Please note that while models can be very informative, they are only a representation of the real world and thus should always be viewed with caution. You can read more about the science behind these models here.



Napier, J. & van Leeuwen, S. 2008, Common Plants of the Pilbara, Department of Environment and Conservation

Woodley, M et al Wangalili Yindjibarndi and Ngarluma Plants, Juluwaru Aboriginal Corporation, 

  1. Search Species

  1. What Else?

    A distinctive and iconic species, unlikely to be confused with any other when in flower

  1. Did You Know?

    Although named after the early explorer, Charles Sturt, this legume was first collected by William Dampier on an island in the Dampier Archipelago in 1699.

    Floral emblem for South Australia

    Sturt's desert pea is one of Australia's best known wildflowers