silver banksia (Banksia marginata)
The dried flowers of banksia trees are well-known to many Australians as the inspiration for the wicked ‘banksia men’ in the children’s stories of May Gibbs. For Tasmanian Aborigines, the young banksia flowers had a much more attractive value, as the source of a sweet nectar drink.
Banksias can easily be recognised by their flowers, which remain on the tree throughout summer and autumn, finally ejecting seeds from seed-cases which May Gibbs turned into facial features for her banksia men.
Early Europeans found another use for the ‘banksia men’ – they made lanterns from the old cones by soaking them in wax and spiking them on sticks.
Silver banksias are an excellent nectar source for both honeybees and native carpenter bees. Native bees bore into the trees' soft wood and make honey-filled cells for their eggs. The nectar is also valuable for ringtail and pygmy possums, insects and nectar-eating birds. Yellow-tailed black-cockatoos rip apart banksia cones to eat ripe seeds. Thornbills glean tiny insects found on banksia leaves, twigs and branches.
(Photos: Fiona Rice)
STUDENT INQUIRY QUESTION
Seeds are stored in many different ways on plants. On banksias, they are stored in their cones. Investigate the variety of ways seeds are stored on other plants in the school's bushland.