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Old man banksia

Old man banksia

What are old man banksias?

The old man banksia is a common woody tree species found along the east coast of Australia.

Old man banksias are named after their distinctive wrinkly grey bark. Their bark, gnarled shape and shiny dark green leaves with saw-toothed edges make them easy to identify. During the flowering season (summer to early autumn), old man banksias feature cylindrical, pale yellow or cream coloured flower spikes. These spikes are large, ranging from 9 to 12 centimetres wide and 7 to 15 centimetres long! As these flowers age, the flower spikes turn grey. When pollinated, the flower spikes develop into large brown-grey woody seed pods called follicles.

The scientific name of the old man banksia is Banksia serrata. Serrata is the Latin word for saw-edged, referring to the saw-toothed leaves of the old man banksia. Other names for the old man banksia are 'saw banksia' and 'saw-toothed banksia'.

Where are old man banksias found?

Old man banksias grow in well-drained sandy soils. They are often found near the coast, growing at the back of the sand dunes.

In Sydney, old man banksias are also found further inland growing in dry sandstone forests and woodlands.

What eats old man banksias?

The flowers of the old man banksia attract many native nectar-feeding bird species such as honeyeaters and wattlebirds. 

Mammals such as flying foxes, possums and gliders have also been seen feeding on the flowers.

Yellow-tailed black cockatoos feed on the immature seed pods that form just after the flowering season.

What adaptations do old man banksias have?

Old man banksias are well adapted to dry conditions and poor soils. They have special roots that are efficient at absorbing the little nutrients that are available in the soil. Their leaves are hard and woody and do not require a lot of water to grow. 

Their hard, woody leaves are also difficult for any herbivores to digest. Being an unappealing food source means that the old man banksia does not have to waste any nutrients or water on replacing eaten leaves.

Like other species of banksia, old man banksias are famously adapted to fire. The thick woody trunk protects the interior from heat damage. After fire, leaves resprout from special ‘back up’ buds (called epicormic buds) found beneath the bark of the trunk. 

The old man banksia is so well adapted to fire that its life cycle relies on it! The details of this are provided in the reproduction and life cycle section below.

How do old man banksias reproduce and what is their life cycle?

Old man banksias rely on pollinators for their reproduction. Native animals such as bees, birds, and small mammals (sugar gliders, pygmy possums, bush rats etc.) help transfer pollen between the flowers of different trees. 

When the banksia flowers are pollinated, they form woody seed pods called a follicle.

The follicles use fire as a cue to release their seeds. 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.

In the absence of fire, the follicles can also release seeds to the ground when they become very dry or when other parts of the tree are dying.

Find out more

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.

Download free from Apple Books.

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