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Gardening 101: Banksia


Gardening 101: Banksia

May 11, 2021

Banksia, Banksia

I don’t know what it is, but I am drawn to plants that are popular with florists. Could be that these plants have a strong constitution, usually have unique shapes and forms, or proudly pronounce their pretty petal power. One example is the under-the-radar Banksia family. You may not know these plants by name but if you hang around floral shops, you’ve definitely seen them and said, “Oh, those are expensive but cool looking flowers!”

Please keep reading to learning more about Banksia:

One of my favorite: Banksia speciosa, a dense, rounded, large shrub or moderately-sized tree that can grow to loading=
Above: One of my favorite: Banksia speciosa, a dense, rounded, large shrub or moderately-sized tree that can grow to 12 to 20 feet tall. It’s Latin name speciosa says it all: showy and beautiful. Huge and wonderfully strange cone-like creamy yellow flowers appear in the summer and fall. Plant in full sun and hardy to 20 to 25 degrees F. MagicSeedAustralia on Etsy sells 5 Banksia speciosa Seeds for $9.45.

Native to Australia (except for one that’s native to New Guinea) and in the Proteaceae family (proteas: another hot florists flower), Banksia was given its name by Carolus Linnaeus to honor the English botanist Sir Joseph Banks. Purportedly, Banks was on Captain James Cook’s first expedition to Australia and in 1770 acquired the first Banksia specimens.

There are over 75 Banksia species and this diverse group contains a variety of forms from quick-growing trees to low-growing evergreen shrubs. All or them are sturdy, carefree, water-wise, and deer resistant, but what really makes some stand out are their  unique and swoon-worthy flowers, which are more like cones than blooms with petals. Banksia flower heads contain hundreds (sometimes thousands) of tiny individual flowers that are grouped in pairs and the fruits become these hard, cone-like cobs that protect the hiding seeds from hungry animals and from fire. For some species, the fruits won’t burst open until they’ve completely dried out or been burnt by a fire. You can find Banksia flowers raging in color from red to yellow, orange, and cream, and they make their appearance in either the summer, fall, or wintertime and persist for many months.

Another good one: Banksia ericifolia &#8
Above: Another good one: Banksia ericifolia ‘Fireworks’, an upright large shrub reaching 8 feet tall by 6 feet wide. Emerging in winter and persisting well into the summer are its outstanding golden cones with red styles that resemble bizarre candles. Frost-tolerant and proven hardy to just below 20 degrees F. Photograph by Philip Bouchard via Flickr.

To successfully grow a Banksia, you should provide it with a sunny spot with good air circulation, in sandy or rocky soil that is well-draining. To make its living situation even more hospitable, consider mulching around your plant with gravel so that moisture won’t linger at the base which could rot it. Planting a Banksia near a water-thirsty lawn would be a death sentence.

Cheat Sheet

Above: Banksia’s flower-like cones make great dried flowers. A pack of 2 Dried Natural Banksia Protea is $24 on Aflora.
  • Works wonderfully as a cut flower or when combined with other flower friends in an arrangement.
  • Add a taller tree type as a specimen or add many of the shrub types as carefree and distinctive fillers in garden beds or hillsides.
  • Looks at home in drought-tolerant, Mediterranean, or succulent gardens.
  • The superb flowers make copious amounts of nectar and so hummingbirds and beneficial insects flock to feed on them.
  • Deer, plus other pests and diseases, happily leave Banksia alone.

Keep It Alive

Banksia spinulosa &#8
Above: Banksia spinulosa ‘Schnapper Point.’ I have planted this variety many times in Marin County. A compact-growing evergreen shrub that reaches 2 to 4 feet tall by 4 to 5 feet wide. The handsome honey and red candle-like flower cones emerge above the foliage all through winter. This one will tolerate light shade and is hardy to 20 degrees F. Photograph taken at Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens by Daderot via Wikimedia.
  • Plant your Banksia in a sunny spot in well-draining soil. If planted in a container, use soil formulated for succulents. If planted in the ground, amend the soil with rocks like pumice or agricultural-grade gravel to avoid root rot.
  • Most like deep, infrequent drinks of water and will become drought-tolerant once established, but always read up on the unique preferences of your chosen plant.
  • Luckily this plant needs little to no pruning, except to trim off the flower stems to bring inside. Pro Tip: Avoid cutting into old wood as the plant will not rebound nicely.
  • Banksia, like other members of the Protea family, notoriously dislikes phosphate fertilizer so (luckily for you) it’s best not to fertilize at all.

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