• Malcolm Fisher

Banksias are Better than Banksy

In “normal” times, Australian tourists travel to the UK and beyond to admire the street art of enigmatic dauber “Banksy”. Meanwhile, back home, some rather more wondrous creations go largely unnoticed. I’m talking of a genus of around 72 native plant species called Banksias...named, ironically after another Englishman named “Banks”. The person in question is botanist Joseph Banks who sailed to these shores with Captain James Cook in 1770.

Banksia Ericifolia (Lantern Banksia)

On the Northern Beaches of Sydney, we have seven locally occurring Banksias, all of which boast spectacular spiky flowers that morph into sculptural seed heads as they mature. These showy flowers, ranging in colour from burnt orange to greenish yellow are fabulously rich in nectar which provides crucial food for honey eating birds, possums and bats as well as being highly attractive to bees and other insects.

In our area, a number of rare animals depend on Banksia nectar for food including the Eastern Pygmy Possum, the Brown Antechinus and the Sugar Glider. Aboriginals used to suck the flower spikes to get a “nectar hit” or they soaked them in water to produce a sweet drink. Many people are familiar with the “Banksia Men”, the villains of May Gibson’s children’s book “Snugglepot and Cuddlepie” which were modelled on the gnarly looking Banksia cones.

Look in any local garden though and you’ll be hard pressed to see any Banksias. They’ve largely been replaced by the ubiquitous imports from overseas, such as Jacarandas, Bird of Paradise plants, Tibouchinas or Agapanthus. If Banksias are around, they’re likely to be a hybrid, grown to be more robust or flamboyant by the Horticultural industry and not the “real deal”. Indigenous Banksias can be seen in Bushland reserves such as Manly Dam.

If you’d like to plant your own, original endemic Banksia... go to local plant nursery Indigo Native Nursery (www.indigonursery.com.au) You can purchase a tubestock seedling for less than $5. An inferior “Banksy” stencilled artwork, on the other hand, is likely to set you back hundreds of thousands of dollars.

So, choose the Aussie option. You’ll be laughing all the way to the Banksia.