The Banksia might have a bit of a bad reputation since author May Gibbs made them her 'Bad Banksia Men' in her famous children's book, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, but nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, the humble Banksia is a vitally important part of the Australian bush landscape, providing nectar and protective shelter for birds and small animals.
Banksia flowers are Inflorescent: that is, the flower head is made up of hundreds, if not thousands, of tiny flowers. This is a common characteristic of many flowers in the Proteaceae family, to which the Banksia belongs. Banksias make excellent cut flowers, as they have a long vase life and excellent range of colours and sizes. Their follicles (or 'Bad Banksia Men' seed pods) are also widely used by florists because of their unique and interesting form.
There are over 173 species of Banksia in Australia, with 60 species found in the southwestern region of the country alone. Many Banksias are yellow, such as the Wallum Banksia (Banksia aemula), which is a greeny-yellow colour, and native to the east coast of Australia as far south as Sydney up to Bundaberg in the north. It is similar to the more commonly known Old Man Banksia (Banksia Serrata), which has serrated leaves and a large, yellow flower head. Old Man Banksia is more widespread, being found along the coast of southern Queensland, eastern Victoria and the entire coast of New South Wales.
Of course, not all Banksias are yellow, and it is their variety in colour that makes them so versatile for the cut flower enthusiast. The Heath Banksia (Banksia ericifolia var. ericifolia) has an orange flower head that is longer and thinner than the Wallum Banksia, and has smaller, needle-like foliage. The Heath Banksia is an excellent choice for colder regions, as it is frost tolerant. It's also great for coastal areas, as it can tolerate salt spray.
Other species that are commonly used by florists include the golden Ashby's Banksia (Banksia ashbyi), white and yellow Hooker's Banksia (Banksia hookeriana), Scarlet Banksia (Banksia Coccinea), the smaller and rounder Baxter's Banksia (Banksia Bexteri), and the Port Wine Banksia (Banksia Menziesii), which has either two-coloured red or pink and yellow flower heads.
Banksia hybrids are also popular, particularly "Giant Candles" (Banksia 'Giant Candles'), which is a hybrid of Banksia ericifolia and Banksia spinulosa var. collina. The flower heads of this hybrid can get as large as 40cm in length and are a deep orange colour, blooming from autumn until the end of winter.