Banksia serrata

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Saw banksia
Proteaceae - Banksia serrata.JPG
Tree of Banksia serrata at Villa Durazzo-Pallavicini
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
Order: Proteales
Family: Proteaceae
Genus: Banksia
Subgenus: Banksia subg. Banksia
Section: Banksia sect. Banksia
Series: Banksia ser. Banksia
Species: B. serrata
Binomial name
Banksia serrata [1]

Banksia serrata, commonly known as old man banksia, saw banksia, saw-tooth banksia and red honeysuckle, is a species of woody shrub or tree of the genus Banksia in the family Proteaceae. Native to the east coast of Australia, it is found from Queensland through to Victoria with outlying populations on Tasmania and Flinders Island. Commonly growing as a gnarled tree up to 15 m (50 ft) in height, it can be much smaller in more exposed areas. This Banksia species has serrated, dark green leaves and large, yellow or greyish-yellow flower spikes.

It is one of the four original Banksia species collected by Sir Joseph Banks in 1770, and one of four species published in 1782 as part of Carolus Linnaeus the Younger's original description of the genus. There are no recognised varieties, although it is closely related to Banksia aemula. It grows exclusively in sandy soils, and is usually the dominant plant in scrubland or low woodland. Banksia serrata is pollinated by and provides food for a wide array of vertebrate and invertebrate animals in the autumn and winter months. It is an important source of food for honeyeaters (Meliphagidae).


Flowers of Banksia serrata
Old cone with follicles

Banksia serrata usually grows as a gnarled and misshapen tree up to 15 m (50 ft) tall, although in some coastal habitats it grows as a shrub of 1–3 m (3–10 ft), and on exposed coastal cliffs it has even been recorded as a prostrate shrub. As a tree, it usually has a single, stout trunk with the rough grey bark characteristic of Banksia. Trunks are often black from past bushfires, and ooze a red sap when injured. The leaves are dark glossy green above and light green below, 8 to 20 centimetres (3 to 8 in) long, and 2 to 4 centimetres (0.8 to 2 in) wide. Except near the base of the leaf, the margins are serrated with lobes between 1 and 3 millimetres (0.04 and 0.1 in) deep. Leaves occur crowded together at the upper end of branches, giving the canopy a thin, sparse appearance. The flowers are a silvery grey colour, with cream or golden styles, and occur in Banksia's distinctive cylindrical flower spikes. "Cones" may have up to 30 follicles, and usually appear hairy due to the retention of old withered flower parts.[2]


Banksia serrata was first collected at Botany Bay on 29 April 1770, by Sir Joseph Banks and Dr Daniel Solander, naturalists on the Endeavour during Lieutenant (later Captain) James Cook's first voyage to the Pacific Ocean.[3][4] However, the species was not published until April 1782, when Carolus Linnaeus the Younger described the first four Banksia species in his Supplementum Plantarum. As the first named species of the genus, Banksia serrata is considered the type species.

Banksia serrata is a fairly uniform species, showing little variation between different habitats other than occasionally occurring as a shrub in coastal areas. No subspecific taxa are recognised. A member of the Banksia (formerly Orthostylis) series, its closest relatives are Banksia aemula and Banksia ornata. George's 1981 publication of B. ser. Orthostylis was illegal, as the inclusion of B. serrata (Saw Banksia), meant that it was required under the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature to be given the autonym Banksia L.f. ser. Banksia . This has been recognised and corrected in later publications.[2]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Range of Banksia serrata in green

Banksia serrata occurs on the Australian mainland from Wilsons Promontory (39°08′ S) in Victoria to the south, north to Maryborough, Queensland (25°31′ S). There is also a large population at Sisters Creek in Tasmania and another in the south west corner of the Wingaroo Nature Reserve in the northern part of Flinders Island. The Wingaroo NR Conservation Plan (2000) reports that the population comprises around 60 to 80 individual trees, the majority of which are believed to be quite old. It adds there is evidence of slow and continuous regeneration, which appears to be occurring in the absence of fire.

Throughout its range, Banksia serrata is found on well-drained sandy soil, and is often found on stabilised soil near the coast but just behind the main dune system.


Banksia serrata plants generally become fire tolerant by 5 to 7 years of age in that they are able to resprout afterwards by epicormic buds or lignotuber.[5]

This species is a food source for a number of bird species. Nectar eating birds and that have been observed feeding at the flowers include Bell Miner (Manorina melanophrys) and White-cheeked Honeyeater (Phylidonyris nigra). The immature follicles are eaten by Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus funereus).[6] Banksia serrata is a host plant for the larval and adult stages of the buprestid beetle Cyrioides imperialis.[7]

Banksia serrata has a central tap root and few lateral roots. Clusters of fine branched proteoid roots up to 15 cm (6 in) long arise from larger roots.[8]

Response to fire[edit]

As with other Banksia species, B. serrata trees are naturally adapted to the presence of regular bushfires and exhibit a form of serotiny known as pyriscence. In low intensity fires, B. serrata can recover using epicormic buds. There is doubt as to whether recovery from a lignotuber is possible, although it has been demonstrated in other Banksia species such as B. menziesii.[9]


B. serrata can be grown readily from seed, collected after heating the "cone". A sterile, free-draining seed raising mixture should be used to prevent damping off.[10] In cultivation, though relatively resistant to 'dieback', it does require a well drained soil, preferably fairly sandy and a sunny aspect. Summer watering is also helpful. Note that the plant may take several years to flower. It is often used in amenities plantings in streets, parks and public gardens in areas to which it is native.


  • Banksia 'Pygmy Possum' - originally propagated by Austraflora Nursery, this is a prostrate form originally from Green Cape area on the NSW far south coast. Similar plants are now seen in nurseries called simply B. serrata (Prostrate) collected from the same area. This plant is suitable for rockeries and small gardens.[11]
  • Banksia 'Superman' - selection from large flowered (spikes to 27 centimetres (11 in) high) and large leaved population from Scotts Head on NSW mid north coast. As yet, not in commercial cultivation, though is registered with ACRA.

Other uses[edit]

Banksia serrata is also used in bonsai.[12]


  1. ^ "Banksia serrata L.f.". Australian Plant Name Index (APNI), IBIS database. Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research, Australian Government. 
  2. ^ a b George, Alex S. (1999). "Banksia". In Wilson, Annette (ed.). Flora of Australia. Volume 17B: Proteaceae 3: Hakea to Dryandra. Collingwood, Victoria: CSIRO Publishing / Australian Biological Resources Study. pp. 175–251. ISBN 0-643-06454-0. 
  3. ^ William J. L. Wharton (ed.), ed. (1893). Captain Cook's Journal during his First Voyage Round the World made in H. M. Bark "Endeavour" 1768–71: A Literal Transcription of the Original MSS. London: E. Stock. 
  4. ^ Banks, Sir Joseph. "29 April 1770". Banks's Journal. Archived from the original on 8 October 2006. Retrieved 2006-10-25. 
  5. ^ Benson, Doug; McDougall, Lyn (2000). "Ecology of Sydney Plant Species Part 7b: Dicotyledon families Proteaceae to Rubiaceae" (PDF). Cunninghamia 6 (4): 1017–1202 [1038]. 
  6. ^ Barker, R.D.; Vestjens, W.J.M. (1984). The Food of Australian Birds. Melbourne University Press. pp. 1:330, 2:197, 232, 458. ISBN 0-643-05006-X. 
  7. ^ Hawkeswood, Trevor J. (2007). "A review of the biology and a new larval host plant for Cyrioides imperialis (Fabricius, 1801)(Coleoptera: Buprestidae)" (PDF). Calodema. Supplementary Paper No. 25: 1–3. 
  8. ^ Purnell , Helen M. (1957). "Studies of the family Proteaceae. I. Anatomy and morphology of the roots of some Victorian species". Australian Journal of Botany 8 (1): 38–50. doi:10.1071/BT9600038. 
  9. ^ Mibus, Raelene; Sedgley, Margaret (24 May 2000). "Early Lignotuber Formation in Banksia –Investigations into the Anatomy of the Cotyledonary Node of Two Banksia (Proteaceae) Species". Annals of Botany (86): 577. 
  10. ^ "Growing Banksias from seed". Retrieved 11 January 2015. 
  11. ^ Stewart, Angus (2001). Gardening on the Wild Side. Sydney: ABC Books. p. 102. ISBN 0-7333-0791-4. 
  12. ^ "Australian Native Plants as Bonsai". Australian National Botanic Gardens. Retrieved 2006-11-14. 

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