I have never seen a Banksia that I didn’t fall in love with, they are all beautiful in their own special ways with their interesting cylindrical, spherical or globular flower spikes, different foliage forms and then the funky woody capsules that hold the seeds. They are gorgeous and there are so many varieties, sometimes it’s hard to choose which to grow!
According to different sources there are either 173 different Banksia species or over 75 species, all but 1 occur naturally in Australia, they are named after Sir Joseph Banks who in 1770, was the first European to collect specimens alongside Daniel Solander and by 1788 several Banksias were grown in England in heated glasshouses.
In recent years, Dryandra has been incorporated into the Banksia genus, although when looking at specimens of Banksia and Dryandra it is clear (to me anyway) why they were previously separately classified.
South Western Australia has the widest range of Banksias with over 60 species recorded, lucky WA! The Eastern states have their fair share of Banksias but not as much variety as they have in WA unfortunately.
Do you remember the children’s book Written by May Gibbs? It was called Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, the Big Bad Banksia men were in fact Banksia pods!
Banksias - A General Description
Banksia species are woody, evergreen perennials with various growing habits from prostrate, shrub or tree forms.
Banksias lack a main taproot and take about 2 years to establish themselves.
Often the larger tree species have gnarled trunks with thick, often furrowed bark and a low branching habit.
About half of all Banksias can regenerate from the rootstock suing a lignotuber or can resprout from buds under the bark.
Prostrate forms often regenerate from underground roots with flowers and fruit growing at ground level.
Foliage is variable, some species have needle-like leaves, others have large and leathery leaves, with serrated or deeply divided margins, undersides of mature leaves can be whitish. The new growth is soft, velvety and often rusty coloured.
The interesting flower spikes are made up of hundreds, sometimes even thousands dense and tightly packed, spirally arranged tiny individual flowers. The main flush of flowers for most species is Summer, Autumn and Winter.
Once flowers have finished, the flowers die off and the hard and woody cones remain sometimes for years, follicles on the cones are raised adding visual interest as well as protecting the seeds enclosed. These follicles protect the seeds from foraging animals and fire, many species will not open and release the seeds until they have been burnt or have completely dried out. Usually only a small percentage of flowers are fertilised and produce seed.
Once the follicles open up to release the seeds, inside will usually contain two winged seeds and a separator.
Banksias can occur on deep sandy soils, lateritic loam with good drainage, on coastal cliffs, heathlands, forests and into semi arid areas.
Growing Banksia from Seed
Banksias are easily propagated from seed! Great news right? Seeds are a cheaper alternative to buying established plants and if you have the patience to wait, they are well worth the effort.
Some Banksia species that come from Alpine high country from the eastern states can benefit from cold stratification to overcome seed dormancy.
Seeds should be sown in a very well draining mix that should not be allowed to dry out.
It is also best to sterilise your seed raising mix before sowing the seeds as Banksia seedlings are prone to fungal attack so this pre-treatment will help prevent this from happening.
A media made from equal parts washed river sand, loam and peat moss or leaf mould is generally suitable for propagating Banksias.
Banksias can also be germinated straight into garden beds (although not my preferred method), on filter paper or on vermiculite and then be potted on when they sprout.
Use a Seaweed based fertiliser when watering in after sowing.
Be careful not to overwater seedlings as they are prone to damping off as are most of any species form the Proteaceae family
Seedlings should be transplanted when their first true leaves appear. Growth on these can be promoted by an application of Aminogrow and a Seaweed fertiliser every 2 - 4 weeks, these are safe on Australian natives.
Choose a sunny position with well drained soil for its final position.
Banksias don’t like heavy clay or poorly drained soils, so they can benefit from adding gypsum and Dynamic Lifter before planting out, raised garden beds or planting on a mound can aid drainage.
Mulch can be added but be sure to keep away from the base of the trunk.
Most Banksia species respond to light pruning and those that form a lignotuber can be pruned more heavily. It is best to trim off any dead branches to maintain a neat plant.
Be sure to only use a low phosphorus fertiliser as they are sensitive to high levels of phosphorus especially when young. Fertilise once or twice a year with an Australian native fertiliser or one that has a phosphorus content that is less than 2%. Fertilsing is not necessary, but if they are fed you will be rewarded with stronger growth, bigger and better flowers. Dynamic Lifter can be used and makes a good fertiliser for Banksias.
The West Australian Banksia species are prone to root rot fungus and often do not grow well in areas with high humidity and high Summer rainfall.
Although Banksias are drought tolerant, keep an eye on them over the first few Summers and provide some extra water during hot periods if needed.
They are generally pest and disease free, the only things you may want to look out for are caterpillars, scale and sooty mould although these don’t create much of an issue. Root rot and phosphorus toxicity can be a problem if not well managed.
So, why grow Banksias?
Well, why not? They make great additions to any home garden!
They are already accustomed to our landscapes and climates so will grow well in gardens without too much effort.
They are a great beginner grower to practice on growing in the garden.
They have gorgeous flowers in many different colours, shapes and sizes that produce copious amounts of nectar, attracting bees, birds, insects and small mammals so are perfect for bringing in native wildlife into your garden.
The flowers and cones can be used in fresh and dried flower arrangements and are a great Australian native option rather than using exotic species, usually are longer lasting and look spectacular!
The flowers give off a sweet honey scent, another reason to cut them and put them inside as a cut flower!
They can be used as a feature or as a background species, low growing varieties can be grown in front of larger species to add different visual aesthetics to your garden.
They are drought tolerant and low maintenance.
They attract a range of fauna to the garden, including birds, bees, butterflies, other insects and mammals that feed on the nectar rich flowers.
Did you know that Banksias are a Bush Tucker plant? The nectar from the flowers are eaten, often sucked straight off the bush by Indigienous Australians, they taste sweet and contain a lot of sugar. This was also used to treat coughs, sore throats and some stomach issues, containing beneficial nutrients like vitamin C. These flowers are best picked in the morning before the nectar is devoured by the birds, and the best seasons to pick are during Spring and early Summer. The flowers can also be soaked in water to make a tasty drink, something like a cordial.
We have heaps of Banksias to choose from on our Seedy Shop, why not try propagating these beauties yourself?