Banksia Study Grioup

Banksia coccinea

Who We Are

The Banksia Study Group consists of a scattering of people keen on growing, cultivating and finding banksias across Australia. Members comprise both interested amateur growers as well as professional botanists and horticulturists.

Banksia is a large genus of over 200 species in the Protea family (Proteaceae). The size of the genus was expanded in 2007 when the genus Dryandra was merged into Banksia, although this reclassification is not accepted by either the Banksia or Dryandra Study Groups - see footnote on our home page).

All Banksia species occur in Australia with one (B.dentata) extending to islands to Australia's north. Banksias can be found in most environments; the tropics, sub-alpine areas, the coast and desert areas. The most diversity in the genus occurs in the south of Western Australia where over 80% of the species occur.

Banksias are very popular plants in cultivation because of their colourful flowers, dramatic foliage and their role in attracting birds to the garden. They are successfully grown in every state and territory of Australia - provided that species are selected that are suited to the environment where they are cultivated. One of the problems faced by growers is the difficulty in successfully growing Western Australian species in areas of the east coast where there are wet, humid summers.

The Banksia Study Group was set up to address this and other issues. Some broad aims of the group are to:

  • investigate naturally occurring forms that have horticultural potential
  • investigate grafting as a means of extending the range where species can be successfully grown
  • investigate any weed potential of species when grown away from their natural environment
  • compile cultivation reports for a variety of locations.

Note that the Study Group's interests do not include those species which were formerly classified as Dryandra. The Dryandra Study Group remains active and concentrates on the 'Dryandra Group' of banksias.

Banksia Study Group: An Historic Perspective

The following article, which covers the history of the Study Group up until about 2000, is based on one published in the newsletter of the Banksia Study Group, Vol. 3 No. 1 December 2000. It was written by Trevor Blake, who was Study Group leader from 1973-2000.

It may be worth my while reflecting on the Banksia Study Group over the last twenty years or so. In this way we may be able to trace the changes and reasons for developing the group the way it became. Initially it was one of the earliest study groups to come into being, along with hakea, and pea.

The seeds, as I remember them, were sown by Maroondah District Group of the then Society for Growing Australian Plants at a time when they were conducting native plant identification courses and seminars on groups of plants to improve understanding of the range of species available for selection. Over a period as wide a range as possible of species were propagated for distribution during the seminar weekend. Amazing species came to light, many only heard of or read about in books or herbarium journals. Some of those seminars included Goodeniaceae, Epacris, Darwinia, Fabaceae, Correa and Eremophila. Booklets of notes were published and enthusiasts and plant growers of the genera focused on were invited to talk to Maroondah Group at their Friday evening meeting which launched the seminar. They were extremely successful and the enthusiasm generated matured into some of the well known and valued publications on Australian flora that continue on today.

Jim Carney began a group to study Western Australian banksias as they were reliably unreliable in the eastern states and particularly in the shallow clay soils around Melbourne. Jim produced the first of these "Western Banksia Study" reports in June 1972 but tragically he was killed early the following year and as I had been fairly closely associated with the study I took over. Because of the interest shown in the genus, I decided to expand the study to cover all of the species. A second report was published in June 1973 and was one that had been started by Jim. A third report, which was expanded to some 38 pages was produced in June 1974 and at this stage Alf Salkin, who was undertaking his Masters degree in banksias, became heavily involved and remained a great source of knowledge and enthusiasm throughout.

Our efforts to sustain a seed supply became frustrating as the seed sent into the seed bank was generally fairly commonly available, and we were buying from the same suppliers as the public could access.

The demand, of course, was for all the scarce or rare species, so we decided to discontinue this practice and publish all the known suppliers. Our aim was to publish all worthwhile information and not conduct a chatterbox newsletter every few months, This practice did not fit in with the regular study group format. There were no fees and the only revenue raised was when a report was available and these were advertised in the state newsletters and Australian Plants. A great deal of letter writing took place and I always encouraged people to contribute articles or tell of their experiences, both good and bad. Only when enough worthwhile data amassed was another report produced, as a result we had no membership, but instead a loose group that I could write to for information etc. This suited my style, my interest in banksias and my available time.

On a couple of occasions I set about closing the group down and suggested that it be combined with the Dryandra Study Group, but was talked back into keeping it going.

Alf Salkin was well under way with his degree and was finding lots of fascinating data through his research. One of the projects that he needed to carry out was the planting of the enormous collection of seedlings that he had collected seed of on his travels up the east coast. The Royal Botanic Gardens at Cranbourne provided a site where he could do just this, and with all the redevelopment that is being carried out, most of this has been retained. His enthusiasm expanded and he eventually took over a sandhill, where most Banksia, and a wide range of other Proteaceae species, were grown.

Banksia Study Report #4 was produced in 1977, #5 in 1979, #6 in 1982, #7 in 1986, #8 in 1988, #9 in 1992, and #10 in 1995.

In the meantime of course, the genus was revised in the journal from the Western Australian Herbarium by Alex George "Nuytsia " Vol. 3 No. 3, 1981 and then The Banksia Book by A. George was produced. At the same time Celia Rosser had started on the first of her 3 tomes which were finally completed in 1999. A major study of the genus began and resulted in the Banksia Atlas in 1988 which added to our knowledge of the whereabouts of all the species, and in so doing unearthed many more interesting variations. Back in 1982 the Elliot & Jones Encyclopaedia Vol. 2 was produced with the genus being covered from a horticultural point of view and updated in the first supplement in 1994. Wrigley & Fagg also produced a text on Proteaceae covering all species of Banksia in 1989 which had emphasis placed on their horticulture. The long awaited "Flora of Australia " Vol. 17B was published in 1999 and both Victoria and New South Wales covered Banksia in their respective Flora's published over the last ten years.

It was interesting that of all the 'new' species named since that 1972 revision, and there were many, and despite repeated requests for information on their growing, germination etc. in all SGAP publications both state and national, only a handful of reports emerged which indicated that they were either not known and grown, or that people just hadn't got round to sending in data.

A healthy cut flower trade has developed during the last twenty years, some being genuinely interested in promoting the genus as a genuine "Aussie "flower and those that we are all too aware of in making sure that they muddy the waters and flog anything that grows in this country as Australian natives.

These we know are represented by proteas, leucadendrons, and other such South African species, which is a pretty poor reflection on those companies.

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