The magnificent Banksias are members of the Protea family related to Grevillea and Hakea. They were discovered and named after the great British botanist, Sir Joseph Banks, who first saw them lighting up the Australian bush near Botany Bay in April 1770.
Since then 170 species have been discovered. All are exclusively native to Australia
They range from spreading groundcovers only 1 metre/3.3ft high to 30 metre/100ft giants. Most species grow in the 4-9m/13.2-30ft range. Many Banksias are relatively dense and oval-shaped in habit, some are more upright, open and branching.
These are bold and handsome evergreen shrubs and trees. Leaves are leathery, long and
simple, often with prominent teeth.
Banksias thrive in dry, hot climates and many are semi-desert natives. They are quite adaptable to a variety of soils, even poor soils, preferring sandy land rich in leaf mould and with an acid soil pH.
They have been found to naturalise in volcanic soil, gravel, loamy land and even heavy clay provided the site remains dry.
Banksias are hardy in extreme coastal sites right to the shore. They are often found on dry banks and hillsides, cliff tops and rocky terrain. Yet they are equally accommodating to the
backyard garden provided they have good drainage.
While they will even tolerate positions that occasional become damp or wet, their root system often begins to rot or does not expand outwardly as it should.
Thus in wet sites as the shrubs or trees develop and mature, their foliage may begin to show characteristic signs of over-watering leaf-spot and often the trees will eventually uproot during heavy gales.
Banksia can tolerate some light freezing and Winter frosts especially where conditions remain dry. But they are more likely to be damaged whenever freezing is accompanied by cold wet soil or persistent cloudy, cold and damp weather.
Flowering starts in Autumn through Spring, depending on the variety. Even when not in flower their persistent seed cones remain decorative throughout the Summer months as well.
Large buds covered in velvety bracts usually open from the base and spiral upwards in parallel rows of narrow, silky petals. Long, wiry stamens follow, giving the flower a fuzzy appearance. Upwards of 1,000 tiny flowers can bloom in a single dense spike.
Flowers appear amongst the branches on old wood and are numerous and upright. Each species has a most distinctive flowering form and shape.
Some are cone shaped, others nearly round or egg shaped, many appear like wiry, plastic bottle brushes and others form long cylinders often called ‘torches’. These range in colours include purple, grey, scarlet, yellow, gold, orange, buff and green to greenish white.
Banksias are known commonly as Australian Honeysuckle. Banksia flowers have almost no fragrance but are nectar-rich honey plants also highly attractive to birds. Aboriginals soak the blooms in water to make a honey drink or place the blooms on a large leaf to collect the sweet nectar.
Several Banksias thrive here in damper New Zealand climates, once again, in very well-draining soils. Banksia ericifolia, the Heath Banksia or Lantern Banksia has vivid orange, red orange, golden orange or gold long cylindrical flowers on spreading, often open shrubs.
Leaves are short, simple and needle-like; clothing the many-branching stems on all sides reminiscent of Spruce and Pine Trees. These are perhaps the best known, most popular and easiest to grow species.
Banksia collina, syn. B. spinulosa var. collina, is the very popular Hill Banksia or Golden Candlestick Banksia. Flowers are robust bright golden cylinders with red or purple styles. These appear amongst the foliage at the tips of one year old growth.
Leaves are simple, long and narrow but usually flattened and somewhat softer than in B. Integrifolia. There are several named cultivars and most are robust, spreading or almost sprawling shrubs.
Banksia integrifolia, the Coastal Banksia, is perhaps the hardiest species. It is often found on cliffs or hillsides and on the coast right down to the shoreline. Leaves are long, flat, simple tapering at the base and broader at the tip with irregular soft teeth and a silvery reverse.
Flowers are usually broader and shorter cylinders or slightly oval-shaped in a honey yellow or cream shade with very prominent lighter coloured stamens creating a large and rounded bottlebrush appearance.
These are highly attractive to nectar-feeding birds and occasionally butterflies. Flowers are long-lasting and followed by distinctive and very unusual brown, woody almost warty cones which are highly persistent. This species makes a small, open tree.
Flowers are excellent for cutting and often sold through the florist trade especially in the Southern Hemisphere. These dry well for floral art and the pods are equally decorative.
Mid to Late Autumn, Winter through Early Spring is the best time to plant. The shrubs and small trees take a while to establish new roots.
So planting during the cooler and damper months gives them the opportunity to develop a strong root system before the heat returns.