Banksia plants belong to a genus of around 170 species native to Australia. They also belong to the Proteaceae plant family, which is an ancient family of flowering plants that dispersed and diversified throughout Gondwana before the supercontinent disintegrated. With about 1600 species, Proteaceae is one of the plant groups that dominate the southern hemisphere flora.
Banksia plants take many forms, from trees up to 30 metres tall, to woody shrubs, to a few prostrate species. The leaves vary greatly between species, with sizes varying from 1.0–1.5 centimetres long up to 45cm long. The young leaves are velvety and often brownish or yellow in colour, while the mature leaves are green or dark green, hard to touch and most species have serrated edges. Leaves are usually arranged along the branches in irregular spirals, but in some species, they are crowded together in whorls.
The most distinguishing feature of banksias is the flower spike, which is an elongated inflorescence consisting of a woody axis covered in tightly-packed pairs of flowers attached at right angles. A single flower spike generally contains hundreds or even thousands of flowers; the most recorded is around 6000 inflorescences in Banksia grandis. A wide range of species and hybrids is available for cultivation, which enables a spread of harvest times throughout the year.
Banksias generally achieve their first commercial harvest three years after establishment. It is therefore important to thoroughly research the entire value chain for banksia production and to select the correct variety or hybrid for the target market.
The wildflower industry, including banksia producers, is a mature industry in Australia. It has an active R&D program that assists industry members develop better production techniques, works towards industry-wide standards and undertakes market development activities. The wildflower industry is represented by WildFlowers Australia, which represents a diverse range of industry participants, including growers, buyers, wholesalers, exporters and importers, and research and extension specialists.
Facts and figures
- Banksia production for cut flowers is a long-term investment as the first harvest is in their third year of growth
- Banksias, like many proteaceae, are susceptible to phytophthora root rot
- Many species and hybrids of banksia are commercially available for cut flower production
- Banksias are usually marketed as single stems and have a vase life of up to 15 days
- Banksias can grow on a range of soil types
There are no specific figures or statistics available for banksias, however, the Australian wildflower industry is located mainly in Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and south east Queensland. For the 2011–12 financial year, the gross value of the wildflower industry was estimated at AU$30 million, reflecting reduced sales in domestic and export markets compared with previous years.