Banksias, real and imagined

The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, by May Gibbs,  is an Australian children's book first published in 1918. The heroes, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, are cute little gum-nut babies who are terrorized by the villainous Banksia men.

Not very far away a number of Banksia men were sitting in a Banksia-tree, basking in the sun and planning mischief.

'Bunch and scrunch 'im!' shouted one.
'Hit and spit 'im!' growled another.
'String and ring 'im!' snarled a third.

Then they all jumped about, grunting and chattering and shaking the bough until the leaves rattled.

I do apologize to any gum-nuts reading this blog post. Banksia men may be immoral and dangerous, but I find them very attractive and so I'm devoting this post to them. Maybe I'll write a post another time about Eucalyptus trees.

Banksias consist of 173 species. Of these, all but one grow naturally only in Australia. They are all woody evergreen plants, and they vary from prostrate shrubs to huge trees. They occur in a wide variety of landscapes around the coast of Australia. 


The large flower heads are made up of tiny individual flowers grouped together in pairs. There are hundred, even thousands of flowers on each head. Birds and small mammals like possums are attracted to these flowers and Banksias rely on them for pollination.



The fruits of banksias are hard and woody and are called follicles. They look like cones but they're not cones. True cones are only produced by conifers. These hard woody fruits protect the seeds inside from foraging animals and from fire. In many species the fruits will not open to release the seeds until they have been burnt or completely dried out.



Banksias were named after Joseph Banks, the botanist who sailed with Captain Cook on the Endeavour  voyage of 1768 - 1771.  



Archaeological evidence suggests that banksias or banksia-like plants have existed for over 40 million years. The first humans to discover and make use of the Banksia were the Australian aborigines who used the nectar from the flowers as part of their diet.


These photos were taken in the Australian Botanic Gardens, Canberra and on a cliff path overlooking Coogee beach in Sydney, on sunny winter days in July.





Comments

  1. Fascinating shrubs and trees catmint. Banksia men! aw weel, 'String and ring 'im!' very nice bedtime stories for the little ones.

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    1. the banksia men are very scary, could give littlies nightmares.

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    1. I imagine banksias are to us what fir trees are to you?

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  3. Banksias are the Australian part of the protea family? The suikerbossie protea was used by the early settlers as a source of syrup - now just the birds enjoy the nectar.

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    1. I have learned something new from this comment - thanks Diana. Both grew on Gondwanaland, but when the continent split up, proteas stayed in your place, banksias in mine. But all on the same family tree.

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  4. Love your story and fun. New plants for me here.

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    1. in a way this blogging business is a bit like deskchair travel, isn't it?

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  5. Fascinating to see the flower of the Banksia, I have a toadstool which has been carved out of the Banksia nut, must go and have another look at it!

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    1. sounds very interesting ... must be a very small carved toadstool???????

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  6. Thanks for introducing me to a plant I've never heard of. Very interesting information. And an interesting looking plant!

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    1. thanks Holley, it is very interesting, but then I guess all plants are interesting, they are all so different. I considered including it in your book review meme but wasn't sure it was enough of a book review.

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  7. I remember reading the Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie to my boys when they were little ones, and reading the stories to my Year 1's over the years. I've always loved those stories and they've always gone down well with young children. Great information in your post today. Banksias are just fantastic plants.

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    1. thanks Bernie, it's all so familiar to us, yet so exotic to our overseas cyberfriends.

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  8. Hi, Catmint! Banksias are my favourite flowers. I only wish I had a Celia Rosser print!
    My sister used to be terrified of the Banksia men - you can well see how those hairy figures could become nightmare. Nothing's further from the truth, of course - banksias love the light!

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    1. hi Faisal, welcome back, I missed you. I can see how scary the Banksia men are. I found them terrifying, and don't think I realized for a long time that they grew on trees.

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  9. I love this tree and its fascinating fruit...what a great bedtime story...I agree with Alistair....my goodness what an interesting fruit...have you ever tried it?

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    1. I once took a guided tour on Aboriginal land with an Aboriginal guide and was shown how to suck the nectar from the flower. I haven't thought to do it since, but next time I seen a Banksia flower I will take a sip ... (there's none flowering in my garden at the moment).

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  10. You have to admire a tree species that has been around for 40 million years! I always think the moment of discovery that a plant or fruit is good to eat is an interesting mystery. What made to aboriginals decide that the flower nectar could be consumed I wonder? Did they watch other animals or insects and decide to try it for themselves? We will never know, but there has to have been a leap of faith involved, because consuming unknown things can prove harmful or even lethal. I also wonder how they came upon a method to harvest the nectar. Surely, it was a matter of trial and error with some determination involved. One can't help but appreciate such ingenuity.
    P.S. I love the name of the children's book! It sounds like a great bedtime story.

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    1. The book's in print - I recommend it. Best read aloud with an Australian accent, but if you can't manage that, still worth reading! I think even now people who are hungry will eat anything that might be OK - I guess it is a matter of trial and error, but the mistake can be deadly.

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