These unusual flowers have long lives and old souls.
by Steven W. Brown, AIFD
1 DENSE FLOWERS. Pronounced “BANK-see-a,” these unusual flowers have dense, fuzzy inflorescences made up of tightly packed small flowers. The rugged appearance created by their serrated leaves and large flower heads give Banksias a distinctive appearance of great value in floral design.
2 A BOTANIST IMMORTAL. Botanists began collecting and studying this genus as early as 1597. There are approximately 75 Banksia species, and all but one occur naturally in Australia. Botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander are credited with the discovery of Banksias, and the plants were named in honor of Mr. Banks’ contribution to botany.
3 A PREHISTORIC EXISTENCE. Banksias are members of the Proteaceae family, which has more than 1,400 species including Protea, Leucospermum (pincushions), Leucadendron and Telopea in addition to Banksia. Proteaceae is an ancient family, perhaps one of the oldest known groups of flowering plants. Scientific studies of plant life show that the family existed more than 300 million years ago.
4 AN AUSTRALIAN NATIVE. Most Banksias are native to Australia. Southwestern Australia contains the greatest diversity, with approximately 60 species recorded. The aborigines were the first humans to discover and make use of Banksia plants. They used the nectar from the flowers as part of their diet.
5 EARTHY COLOR PALLETTE. Most Banksia blossoms have earth-toned colors of yellow, orange, red, pink and green. The flower colors of some species and cultivars change over time in vase solutions. Banksias also can be altered using absorption-type floral dyes.
6 YEAR-ROUND SEASON. De-pending on the species, Banksias are available year-round from both international and domestic sources. There are periods when they are more plentiful, particularly during the cooler seasons in the various regions where they are grown. If particular species are desired, order them in advance from your favorite wholesaler.
7 LOOK BEFORE LEAPING. Purchase Banksias when approximately one-third of the florets are showing stamens or pollen. Watch for blackened foliage or florets and for any sign of fungus inside the “bottle-brush”-shaped heads. Banksia flowers rot easily if they are kept wet for any length of time, so avoid flowers with any sign of water damage.
8 SIMPLE CARE. Handling these flowers is easy. Trim at least 1 inch from the bottom of each stem with a sharp knife or pruner. Remove all leaves that would fall below the water line and any that conceal the blossoms. Place the stems into a clean vase or bucket with a properly prepared flower food solution. Recut the stems, change the vase water frequently and keep these flowers away from direct sunlight to keep them looking fresh. Banksias generally last for about two weeks, depending on species.
9 THEY LIKE IT COOL. Store Banksias at 33 F to 38 F to extend their vase life. Generally they should not be kept in floral coolers for more than two weeks.
10 ALL DRIED UP. Banksias dry easily and have many uses as dried flowers. They will dry without shedding leaves or florets.
Steven W. Brown, AIFD, is a professor and department chair of horticulture and floristry at City College of San Francisco with 26 years of consulting and educational experience in the floral industry.