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Garden Weekends - by Amanda Crotty


October 7th 2009 23:29
: Australian native
Banksia ericifolia

The Banksia is a distinctive group of plants identified and named by Sir Joseph Banks in 1770. Botany Bay in Sydney got its name from a diary entry of Banks describing how his collection of plant samples had grown so large he was concerned they would spoil in the books. He took all his drying papers ashore, spread them out on a sail in the sun to dry them properly hence the name botany.

There are about 60 species of Banksia all growing in Australia, with one known exception, Banksia dentata which grows in New Guiniea. The flowers are rich in nectar and pollen providing food for honey eating birds and tiny marsupials, also attracting bees and insects. Black cockatoos are able to break open the seed pods with their strong beaks to feast on the seeds.
Indigenious Australians also feasted on the sweet flowers, some soaking the flowers in water to make a sweet drink called beal, others struck the flowers against their hands then licked off the nectar. If there were enough flowers the woman would collect the nectar in a coolamon by hitting the sides.
When the flowers die a dry fuzz remains on the central spike. Those successfully pollenated develop into velvet covered woody growths that look like swollen eyelids. In some species only a few develop giving the cob a slight human appearance, these were made famous in May Gibbs book snugglepot and cuddlepie. Each compartment holds two papery seeds that are released when heated, I put mine on a tray in the oven this works fine.

In their natural habitats Banksias are very hardy growing in poor coastal soil, in desert conditions, in infertile sandstone soils, and they even grow up in the alps. Most prefer well drained sandy soil with the odd one adapting to swamp conditions. All eastern varieties except Banksia denata are frost hardy evergreen trees ranging in height of 18 metres or more to prostrate forms that grow along the ground, with diverse leaf shapes.
Banksias are among the most most popular cultivated native Australian plants growing easily with a minimum of attention. Unfortunately though many of the western varieties wont grow in the eastern states because they suffer root rot.

Banksia ericofolia and Banksia serrata growing in native conditions.

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