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.