Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Banksia Occidentalis

Banksia Occidentalis is a Western Australian banksia from the coastal areas around Esperence.  Its natural habitat there is low lying sandy areas that are sometimes inundated with water for a period of time, giving this gorgeous flower the unflattering name of Swamp Banksia. 

 This makes it stand out from the crowd though, as it can tolerate more moist soils than other banksias which usually prefer very free draining soil.  Banksias, like many Australian native flowers, are part of the protea family.  As a "protea grower" I was keen to try some banksias to see how they would fare on my Tasmanian hillside, so I did a test plant of some of these stunning flowers. 

The bushes were tiny tubestock when I planted them out into the paddock just over 3 years ago. I have been really surprised at how vigorously they've grown.  I hate to think how tall they'd be if I hadn't pruned them regularly each spring and autumn - they are between 2 and 3 metres high as it is.  This coming year will be the test of whether I can keep them small enough to pick, or whether they'll get away from me.

I've been really happy with the amount of flowers they've produced this autumn too.  Some of the flowers are unusable as they grow out from the base at odd angles.  I'm still learning about training the plants to produce flowers where I'd like them to be ... and unsure if that's even possible!  The flower spikes in this picture are just reaching the stage of development where they begin to turn red.

In this picture you can see flower spikes at different stages of development - a green spike at the bottom middle of the picture is the earliest stage, then the spikes begin to thicken and "puff" out, creating the familiar tidy rows of stamen.  The red flower spike still has a few days to go before its ready to pick.  I've found that the colour needs to develop on the plant, so I let the colour intensify before I pick.

In this macro shot, you can see the structure of the flower which produces seeds prolifically.  

Most of my plants produce entirely red flowers but one bush makes these two-tone blooms with yellow at the base and red on the outside.  

A macro shot of the two-tone flower reveals how the colours are produced.

Flowers that are left unpicked continue to open.  In the final stage of maturity, the previously neatly folded stamen pop out creating tunnels that bees love to bury themselves in.  Flowers picked at this stage won't last as long in a vase but if they're picked before the unfolding process begins, you get to watch it happen.

Their colour and structure are really eye-catching in an arrangement!

Look out for them during the late summer and autumn months!