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Saw Banksia

The Saw Banksia is February's plant of the month.  

Common name:                    

Saw Banksia, Old Man Banksia

Botanical name:               

Banksia serrata




There are approximately 72 known species of Banksia, all of which occur in Australia. South western Australia contains the greatest diversity of banksias, with 60 species recorded. They are also an important part of the flora of Australia's eastern coast. Few banksias are found in the arid regions of Australia or in the rainforests of the eastern coast. In Sydney Banksia serrata is an important species of the critically endangered Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub community (ESBS).
Perhaps the best known cultural reference to Banksia is the "big bad Banksia men" of May Gibbs’ children's book Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. Gibbs' "Banksia men" are modelled on the appearance of aged Banksia "cones", with follicles for eyes and other facial features. There is some contention over which species actually provided the inspiration for the "Banksia men" but the drawings most resemble the old cones of Banksia aemula or Banksia serrata.

Habitat and Distribution

Banksia serrata is widespread in Eastern Australia, extending from southern Queensland to Victoria’s south coast. It can also be found in northern Tasmania. It grows exclusively in sandy soils, and is usually the dominant plant in in scrubland or low woodland. The species is very similar to the Wallum Banksia (Banksia aemula).


Banksia serrata is normally a tree which may reach 15 metres in height in favourable conditions. Sometimes it is much lower, forming a gnarled and stunted small tree with blackened rough bark as a result of surviving many bushfires. Although the species does not develop a lignotuber, the thick rough bark allows it to regenerate by sending out epicormic shoots from beneath the bark a week or so after the fire has passed.

In exposed coastal areas the plants may develop a prostrate habit of growth and these forms generally retain that habit in cultivation away from the coast.
The flower spikes of are about 100mm wide by about 120 mm long. They are usually cream in colour and are followed by seed cones with large protruding follicles. The leaves are large and stiff with serrated edges.


Heavy producers of nectar, Banksias are a vital part of the food chain in the Australian bush. They are an important food source for all sorts of nectarivorous animals, including birds, bats, rats, possums, stingless bees and a host of invertebrates. Furthermore, they are of economic importance to Australia's nursery and cut flower industries.

Indigenous uses

The flowers can be soaked in water for a sweet drink. The cones can be used as firebrands and the wood can be made into needle for sewing mats and baskets.


Specimens of Banksia were first collected by Sir Joseph Banks and Dr Daniel Solander, naturalists on the Endeavour during James Cook's first voyage to the Pacific Ocean. Over seven weeks, Banks and Solander collected thousands of plant specimens, including the first specimens of a new genus that would later be named Banksia in Banks' honour. Four species were present in this first collection: Banksia serrata (Saw Banksia), Banksia integrifolia (Coast Banksia), Banksia ericifolia (Heath-leaved Banksia) and Banksia robur (Swamp Banksia).

Where to see the Saw Banksia in Centennial Parklands

North eastern end of Musgrave Pond.
Bird Sanctuary, Banksia Way.