Most Australian Banksia species grow in the non-topical parts of the continent. This means they do not have the adaptations to grow in a hot humid environment. Fortunately, there are a small number of banksias that will grow in tropical conditions, and even some that are truly at home in Far North Queensland.
Curiously there are no wild Banksia on the reserve, however a small stand of wild Banksia spinulosa is located 25 metres from the southern boundary. In fact Banksia spinulosa occurs to the North, South, East and, West of the property in wild populations. One other Banksia species occurs naturally in the region: Banksia robur occurs in a very small isolated stand at a natural soak.
Banksia spinulosa (Hairpin Banksia)
This species is definitely my favourite native flower (at this point in time). It is a highly variable species exhibiting a range of colours even when seed is collected from the same wild population.
Generally the flowers are yellow to golden, but there are marked differences in the colour of the style, ( the long smooth glossy bit that looks like it’s made of fishing line). Most are yellow or golden, while pink, peach, salmon, and red ones are also found. Some plants have styles that are so dark that they almost appear black. This contrasts beautifully with the gold.
In order to have as many colour variations as possible in the garden I have planted in excess of 100 seed grown plants. Seeds were collected under permit from various locations in far north Queensland including the Windsor Tablelands, Hann Tablelands, and Mount Molloy.
In my opinion the most impressive plants are those origination from Mount Windsor seed stock. These are periodically available from Yuruga Nursery. The one pictured bellow was planted by myself in 2012 at the Herberton Historic Village, and exhibits unusually large flower spikes.
Banksia robur (Swamp banksia)
This plant definitely lives up to its common name. Although it’s quite happy to grown in a normal garden bed, the swamp banksia prefers to have constant access to water.
The only local wild stand of Banksia robur is growing in a paperbark swamp that appears to be spring fed. I am trying to establish a second colony of this local variety on the reserve at a location that is seasonally waterlogged. These plants are surviving, but not thriving. Hence I am planing to establish a satellite colony around a seasonal billabong, as there are no permanent springs on the property.
One interesting feature of this local variety is their incredibly large leaf size. The largest leaf I have measured was 40 cm in length! All the Baksia robur photos here are of plants in the wild stand, as my garden plants are still far from looking impressive.
Banksia aquilonia (Mountain Banksia)
Of the North Queensland banksia varieties, this is by far the most difficult one to find in nurseries. The fact that it does not require fire to open the seed cases means that seed is difficult to collect. I have even found it difficult to propagate seed from my own garden plants. One day it’s there, the next it’s gone. bugger!
So if you find a Banksia aquilonia in a nursery – grab it. Generally, this is a high altitude species, however it is flowering and growing very well at Sheoak Ridge at 400 metres elevation.
Banksia integrifolia (Coast Banksia)
Although this species does not naturally occur in the Queensland tropics, it does grow here reasonably well. However, the two plants established in the gardens are far from stunning. When they do eventually die it’s unlikely that they will be replaced. At least for now they do provide nectar for the numerous honey eaters.
Banksia plagiocarpa (Hinchinbrook banksia / Blue banksia)
The most famous of the tropical banksias. Often called the Blue banksia, this species is really more silver-gray than blue, but if you look really closely into some flowers there is definitely a touch of blue visible. Regardless of it’s true colour this plant is a highlight in any garden as it’s flowers are large, eye-catching, present ant time of the year and very attractive to birds. (I really must grow some more).
Found only on Hinchinbrook Island and the adjacent coast, this species was initially rarely found in gardens, but is rapidly becoming more common.
Banksia dentata (Cape York Banksia)
Banksia dentata is the only species whose distribution extends north of the Australian mainland into New Guinea. It is a truly tropical species that would be a challenge for cool climate gardeners.
There are four of these plants growing in the gardens at Sheoak Ridge. Unfortunately, I still haven’t managed to take a nice photo of one, and that has more to do with the aesthetics of the plants than my camera skills.