Guide Theresa’s plant of the month for April

Banksia menziesii (Menzies’ or firewood banksia) heralds Autumn in the West Australian bush. It can be seen as a small tree or a low spreading shrub and is found on the deep sandy soils of the Perth Coastal Plain and north of Perth to Geraldton.

Flower spikes appear at the end of branches in Autumn and Winter, peaking in June and July, with colours ranging from the iconic red to pink, yellow and bronze. They have a distinctive “acorn” appearance with long grey green leaves with toothed margins.

However, the real beauty of this plant lies in its development, which takes 8-10 months from a bud to maturity. From the hairy bud emerges a spike with intricate mathematical patterns, to flowers that open all the way to the top. Once pollinated and fertilized the flower dies away leaving only a few follicles to grow, swell, and release seed to start another life cycle. Artist Phillippa Nikulinsky produced a stunning illustrated book of each stage called ‘Banksia menziesii’ that is treasured by many.

The genus Banksia is named after Sir Joseph Banks. This species was first botanically collected in 1827 by James Stirling on his exploration of the Swan River. It was named after surgeon-naturalist, Archibald Menzies who had been in an earlier expedition to Albany in 1791. The common name ‘firewood banksia’ arose from its quick-burning properties.

It’s an excellent plant for attracting honey-eating birds and a large range of insects. It is a great ornamental species and cut flower specimen. In Kings Park this month you will find Banksia menziesii in the Mound display opposite Aspects Gift shop, as part of the collection in the Banksia Garden and along the Law walk.