Banksia ericifolia

Today’s entry was assembled by Bryant. He writes:

I would like to thank Rotuli@Flickr (weblog) for today’s image of Banksia ericifolia, or heath-leaved banksia, via the UBC Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Pool.

This medium to large woody shrub is a member of the Proteaceae, a relatively large family consisting of 75 or so genera and approximately 1775 species. The name Proteaceae was derived from Proteus, a mythical Greek god who was believed to be capable of assuming a variety of forms. It is fitting then that many of the genera within the Proteaceae are also similarly variable in form, Banksia included. Banksia demonstrates one of the most extraordinary examples of adaptive radiation among the kingdom Plantae. This genus ranges from small xeric shrubs that inhabit desert environments to tall trees that can grow upwards of 25m in loamy river basins. Other notable differences in adaptations among species of this genus include: fire survival strategies and floral/foliar morphologies.

Banksia ericifolia is native to eastern Australia, usually associated with coastal environments. Flowering occurs during fall and early to mid-winter (March-July) and it often takes several years for a plant to flower. After the plant is done flowering the seed maturation begins within the woody, cone-like pod structure that formed the support structure for the inflorescence. The seeds are nestled inside follicles, which have a heat-activated valve. The follicles only open when they are burnt by a fire, thus making Banksia ericifolia dependent on fire for seedling regeneration. However, fires kill the mother plant and because it can take several years (usually a minimum of 4 years) for the plant to flower, they are susceptible to frequent fires, which can wipe out populations that have yet to form seeds.

Since Banksia ericifolia is an autumn-flowering plant, it serves as a vital source of late season food for a variety of different pollinators. Moths, bees, birds, and even small mammals pollinate this particular species! A study conducted in Bundjalung National Park by Damian J. Hackett and Ross L. Goldingay (Pollination of Banksia spp. by non-flying mammals in northeastern New South Wales) concluded that Banksia ericifolia was foraged by a number of small mammals including the marsupial Antechinus flavipes (yellow-footed antechinus), as well as Rattus tunneyi (pale field-rat) and Melomys burtoni (grassland mosaic-tailed rat). The amount of pollen carried by these mammals was comparable to that typically carried by a nectivorous bird or bat. Lynn Carpenter’s 1978 study, “Hooks for mammal pollination?” suggests that the hooked styles of the flowers may play a role in the pollination of Banksia ericifolia by non-flying mammals.

Banksia ericifolia can be cultivated rather easily from seed, if given the right conditions to grow. In its native range, Banksia ericifolia usually occurs on acidic sandstone soil and is exposed to large amounts of rain during the warmer months. This species also enjoys full sun and sandy well-drained soil with sufficient amounts of iron.

Banksia ericifolia

5 responses to “Banksia ericifolia”

  1. Lawrence Hazelrigg

    These are astonishing at first sight, nearly all species of the Banksia genus. I tried to many years to succeed with various species in Florida; but the soil has too much phosphate in it. Even when planted in special beds with completely new medium, phosphates gradually migrate in, so that even the species that tolerate summer rains succumb because of the phosphate poisoning. Some of my fondest early memories of Australia are of the stands of Banksia in bloom.

  2. phillip

    …speaking of ericifolia…what happened to Eric…?

  3. James Singer

    Amazing bloom. Assume it’s named for Joseph Banks, naturalist/botanist/gadfly on James Cook’s first two incredible voyages.

  4. Karthik

    //The seeds are nestled inside follicles, which have a heat-activated valve. The follicles only open when they are burnt by a fire, thus making Banksia ericifolia dependent on fire for seedling regeneration.//
    Does the fire only induce seed dispersion by opening the follicles or does the heat/temperature also trigger the growth of the seedling?

  5. Victoria Oyama

    To me, the Banksias are even more symbolic of Australia than the eucalypts. I love the seed pods and have one with me here in Japan to comfort me when I get a bit homesick. The heat activated valve is so ingenious considering how prone the Australian landscape is to bushfires.

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