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The hairpin banksia is a shrub native to the east coast of Australia.
Hairpin banksias are a relatively short species, ranging between 1 to 3 metres in height.
During autumn and winter, hairpin banksias feature large, cylindrical flower spikes ranging from 10 to 20 centimetres long! The flowers can be brown, red, orange or gold. The leaves of the hairpin banksia are long (3 to 8 centimetres in length) but narrow (2 to 7 millimetres wide). The trunks have smooth, grey-brown bark. There are three different varieties of hairpin banksias, each differing in height and leaf shape.
The scientific name for the hairpin banksia is Banksia spinulosa. Banksia commemorates Sir Joseph Banks, the botanist who travelled with Captain Cook. Spinulosa, meaning small spines, refers to the bluntly pointed tips of leaves. Hairpin banksias are not so spiky that they are painful to touch.
Hairpin banksias grow in sandy soils which are moist but drain easily. They are found in dry sclerophyll forests and woodlands between the eastern coastline and the Great Dividing Range.
Like other banksias, the flowers of the hairpin banksia produce a lot of nectar attracting many native nectar-feeding bird species such as honeyeaters and spinebills, and small mammals such as antechinuses and pygmy possums.
Hairpin banksias are well adapted to the soils they grow in. They have special proteid roots (roots with lots of small rootlets) that are efficient at absorbing the little water and nutrients that are available in the soil. Their leaves are narrow, hard and woody meaning they do not require a lot of water or nutrients to grow.
Like other banksias, hairpin banksias are well adapted to surviving fire events. After fire, leaves resprout from special ‘back up’ buds (called epicormic buds) found beneath the bark of the trunk. Hairpin banksias have woody, enclosed fruits which protect their seeds from fire as well as foraging animals. Some varieties of hairpin banksias have lignotubers, which are woody swellings at the base of the plant which contain buds which sprout when the stem above ground is killed.
The life stages of the hairpin banksia | Field of Mars EEC (0:49 min) | Video transcript | YouTube
Hairpin banksias rely on pollinators for their reproduction. Native bees, birds such as spinebills and honeyeaters, and small mammals such as brown antechinuses and eastern pygmy possums help transfer pollen between the flowers of different trees.
When the banksia flowers are pollinated, they form woody seed pods called a follicle.
Hairpin banksias keep their seeds in follicles until they are burnt. During the bushfire season, the seeds drop to the ground and germinate in ash-rich soil, clear from other plants which would otherwise compete for sunlight and water. Because of the relationship between fire and seed release, it is important to prevent bushfires from becoming too frequent so that the new seedlings have an opportunity to grow into adults and produce seeds of their own.
Hairpin banksias are not completely reliant on fire for reproduction. In the absence of fire, the follicles also release seeds to the ground when they become very dry or when other parts of the tree are dying.
Eucalypt Forest is an exciting digital book which explores the beautiful natural environment of the Australian eucalyptus forest.
Learn about the interactions between plants and animals in the forest and how people can interact with and care for these special natural areas.
Containing a suite of interactive activities, videos and beautiful images, this book will encourage you to go out and explore your local eucalypt forest.
This book is designed by teachers to support the NSW Geography K-10 syllabus and Science and Technology K-6 syllabus.
Australian Native Plants Society (Australia). 2016. Banksia spinulosa. [online] Available at: <http://anpsa.org.au/b-spi.html>.
Carthew, S. M., 1993. An assessment of pollinator visitation to Banksia spinulosa. Austral Ecology, 18(3), pp. 257-268.
Growing Native Plants. 2015. Banksia spinulosa. [online] Available at: <https://www.anbg.gov.au/gnp/gnp7/banksia-spinulosa.html>.
PlantNET. n.d. Banksia spinulosa Sm.. [online] The Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust. Available at: <https://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Banksia~spinulosa>.
Whelan, R. and Ayre, D., 2020. Long inter‐fire intervals do not guarantee a large seed bank in a serotinous shrub (Banksia spinulosa Sm.). Journal of Ecology, 108(4), pp. 1690-1702.
Hairpin banksia leaves - "Banksia spinulosa var. collina #1" by J.G. in S.F. is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Eastern spinebills use their long beaks to probe deep into banksia flowers. - "Eastern Spinebill" by birdsaspoetry is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 (cropped).
The follicles of this hairpin banksia cone have been opened. - "Hairpin Banksia cone" by John Tann is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 (cropped).
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