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Book Review

Banksias - Kevin Collins, Cathy Collins and Alex George

Reviewed by Jan Sked

Book cover

When I first saw this book I thought it must be one of the best books to be released on a single genus that I had seen, especially as it was written by revered botanist Alex George in conjunction with Kevin and Kathy Collins, who have been growing Banksias for 25 years on their "Banksia Farm" at Mount Barker, Western Australia and have all the known species in cultivation there.

A quick glance through the book showed an amazing collection of information on banksias, and further reading revealed just how much fascinating details had been gathered together for the reader.

As one who likes to have as much background information as possible, I was delighted with the early chapters on the history of their discovery and naming, beginning with Cook's expedition in 1770 and the various collections by subsequent explorers and mariners to our shores, moving on to other collectors, explorers and botanists, and finishing with tables setting out various details in concise form.

There are sections on the classification of banksias, fossil banksias, banksia biology, a whole 28 pages with photographs on the utilisation of banksias, especially in the artistic world. I might mention here that the cover features Celia Rosser's superb paintings on front and back of both the dust cover and the hard cover.

Then there is a very comprehensive chapter on propagation and cultivation of banksias (54 pages - almost a book in itself), including tables about climatic tolerances, soils, uses, ornamental traits and flowering times. I said it was comprehensive!

The final section of the book comprises detailed descriptions of each of the known species, subspecies and varieties. The species are listed alphabetically and information is provided on the naming and collection of each species together with the date and locality, a concise description of the plant, its size, foliage and flowers, its distribution and ecology (including a distribution map), a brief note on similar species and how they differ, cultivation and propagation notes and any special features. Who could ask for more?

The book concludes with a bibliography and index.

Throughout the book, all chapters are illustrated with a plethora of coloured photographs. Each species has a number of illustrations showing close-ups of the inflorescence, usually a shot of the whole plant, occasionally a seed cone and always a drawing of an individual seed. The close-ups are good, but many of the photographs of the whole plant are indistinct and, whether this lack of sharpness is the fault of the photographer or the reproductive process, I could not say. It is but a small criticism amongst the many great features of this publication.

The Authors

Alex George has 50 years experience as botanist, editor and indexer. Banksias and botanical history are amongst his special interests. In 1984 he wrote The Banksia Book which was revised in 1987 and 1996. He has written eight books and 150 papers on Australian botany and described and named many new species.

Kevin and Kathy Collins have pursued their passion for banksias for 25 years, developing "Banksia Farm" at Mount Barker in Western Australia where all known species are grown. The "Banksia Farm" includes the Joseph Banks Fine Art Gallery and Cafe, a specialty plant nursery and a seed production centre.


Kevin Collins, Cathy Collins and Alex George
Bloomings Books, 2008.
RRP $65.00
Hardcover, 384 pages, colour photographs
Signed copies are available from the Banksia Farm

From the newsletter of the Society for Growing Australian Plants (Queensland), December 2008.

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Australian Plants online - 2009
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