Proteaceae is one of my favourite plant familes for the simple reason that it contains so many stunning wildflowers. The type genus, Protea is an obvious example, but there are many, many more. In Australia, there are around 40 Proteaceae genera including familar names like Macadamia, Waratah, Grevillea & Stenocarpus. Species amongst these groups have achieved amazing variation, whilst remaining typically Proteacean in foliage & bloom. A genus that well exemplifies these wildflowers, is the largest & most diverse of them; the beautiful Banksias.

There are over 200 Banksia species & subspecies; excluding a possible sub-genus. Each of them different but instantly recogniseable, they are a perfect illustration of nature's ability to vary endlessly on a theme. There are very few hues or colour combinations not represented somewhere in this genus. Similarly, there is considerable variety amongst Banksia foliage, form & climate preferences. All are ruggedly-adapted perreniels & all are beautiful.

It is hard to choose a favourite Banksia. I am fond of the Heath-leaved Banksia ericifolia for example, because of its colourful flower & unusual foliage. The Prostrate Banksia petiolarison the other hand, is another favourite as it is low-growing, drought-tolerant & has a subtle, sandy-hued bloom. Still, talking about wildflowers is not the same as showing them. For this reason I've put together a small gallery of Banksia images supplied by DG members. To expand & contract the images, just click on them. Each picture has a caption including its common & botanic names, plus the member who supplied it. Thanks goes out to these members. This article is dedicated to them.
Banksia "Giant Candles" courtesy of kennedyh
Banksia Gallery

Unlike native pea family species like Acacias & Chorizemas, Proteaceas such as Banksias have no special germinating requirements. They sprout relatively quickly & tend to be fast growing, given alkaline soil & good drainage. A lot can be said about the cold hardiness of Banksias as well. On this site there is a list of 40 variably frost tolerant species; including most featured in the gallery. The striking example to the right belonging to kennedyh, "Giant Candles" is a hybrid of the Heath-leaved Banksia ericifolia & the Hairpin Banksia spinulosa. Grown in the US, it would make a great outdoor Christmas Tree complete with natural decoration.

The drought happy B. petiolaris mentioned earlier is one of a number of low-growing varieties. The Creeping Banksia repens is another example, but other species like the Southern Blechnum Banksia blechnifolia also cover ground by sending shoots beneath the soil. Both these Western Australian natives bloom directly from the ground & make great container features. By comparison, the Wallum Tree Banksia aemula can reach 8 metres & there are species growing to all sizes between.

Clarifying the possible sub-genus mentioned earlier, some experts argue for an absorption by Banksia of Dryandra; a closely related genus. Dryandras are less widespread than Banksias & relatively unseen in cultivation. They tend to be prostrate, though a tree-like species exists in D. arborea. Dryandras require sandy soils & in the words of the Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants, "can be regarded as very suitable for areas with a Mediterranean-style climate with wet winters & fairly dry summers". Like Banksias, these plants form showy flower bracts but in a more restricted range of forms.

Urchin Dryandra praemorsa courtesy of bootandall

Proteaceae species generally speaking, have specialised root systems developed to maximise nutrient intake from sparse soils. This is particularly the case with Dryandras & to a lesser degree, Banksias. Consequently, these plants are sensitive to fertilisers. If such chemicals are used on them, low phosphate, slow release & purpose-made protea mixes are suggested.

The list below leads to plenty of hints for raising & caring for established Banksias, plus information to help decide on the right one. Whether you want an attractive container bloom, a beautiful tree like kennedyh or something colourful in between, Banksias are a great option.

Find Out More:

Hints For Growing Banksias
Growing Banksias

Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants (ASGAP)

(This article was originally published on May 29, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)