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Australian Plants online

On the Brink - 10

A series on Australian Plants at risk in their natural habitat.

Banksia cuneata

Banksia cuneata, B.ilicifolia and the newly described B.oligantha are three species which comprise the highly distinctive subgenus Isostylis within the genus Banksia. All three are very 'un-typical' banksias as their flowers occur in conical-shaped clusters rather than the familiar cylindrical inflorescences of other Banksia species. Their appearance more closely resembles the closely related genus Dryandra.

Banksia cuneata grows in yellow-brown sands in shrubland and is one of the most sensitive banksias to dieback. It is only known from a handful of populations near Quairading in Western Australia's central wheatbelt. Furthermore, much of the land nearby is heavily cultivated and weed-infested in places. The plant requires fire to regenerate at certain intervals as its seedpods remain closed until burnt. It is non-lignotuberous and hence can be eliminated from its habitat through fires which occur too frequently (ie. it requires sufficient time between fires for seedlings to reach maturity, flower and set seed).

Banksia cuneata   

Photo: Jim Barrow
Click for a larger image

The species is listed as endangered under the Australian Government's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. This listing means that the species faces "a very high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future, as determined in accordance with the prescribed criteria". Under the ROTAP* coding system it is classified as "2EC".

B.cuneata is typically a large shrub or small tree to about 4 metres high. Bark is smooth and grey and the prickly, wedge-shaped leaves grow to 4 cm in length, resembling holly leaves. Flowering has been recorded in late winter as well as spring. The inflorescences, which can be very numerous, are most attractive in late bud, pinkish with pale green limbs. They produce copious amounts of nectar. It is known as matchstick banksia because the flowers in late bud resemble unlit matches.

In cultivation, B.cuneata requires a sandy, well drained soil and a sunny aspect. A tub or large container may be appropriate if local soils are too heavy. To date the plant hasn't been tried in areas of summer humidity - based on experience with other western banksias, it would be probably be difficult to grow successfully in those areas.

* ROTAP: Rare or Threatened Australian Plants (1988). J.D.Briggs and J.H.Leigh, CSIRO Division of Plant Industry (Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service, Special Publication No.14).


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Australian Plants online - June 2004
Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants