Characteristics of Banksia Saw Tree (Banksia serrata) in the Wild

Characteristics of Banksia Saw Tree (Banksia serrata) in the Wild

Saw banksia or Old man banksia (Banksia serrata) is a species of woody tree from the genus Banksia, in the family Proteaceae native to the east coast of Australia. This tree can be found from Queensland to Victoria with isolated populations in Tasmania and Flinders Island.

Banksia serrata was first collected in Botany Bay on April 29, 1770, by Sir Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, naturalists on the British ship HMS Endeavor during Captain James Cook’s first voyage to the Pacific Ocean.

The Cadigal people who lived in the Sydney area before the arrival of Europeans called Banksia serrata Wiriyagan.

Banksia serrata is a fairly uniform species, showing little variation between different habitats apart from occasionally growing as a shrub in coastal areas. No subspecific taxa are recognized.

Characteristics of Saw Banksia Leaf

Banksia serrata Leaf
Source: tkeay

The leaves usually gather at the top ends of the branches, making the canopy appear thin and sparse. The leaves themselves are shiny dark green above and light green below, 2-4 cm long, 4.5 cm wide, and oval to egg-shaped. The leaf margins are serrated, except near the base, with lobes between 1-3 mm deep.

Characteristics of Saw Banksia Flower

Banksia serrata Flower
Source: Dhruthi Somesh

Cylindrical flower spikes, or compound flowers, grow from the tips of 1-2 year old branches and have leaves at the base. The flower spike is generally 9-12 cm wide with hundreds of flowers emerging from the upright woody axis. The wood axis is 7-15 cm high and 0.9-1 cm wide. The flowers are creamy gray with cream markings. The wilted parts of the old flowers remain on the cones, giving them a hairy appearance. Each follicle is oval, has a wrinkled texture, is covered with fine hair, and is 2.5-3.5 cm long, 2.0-2.5 cm thick, and 1.5-2.2 cm wide.

Banksia serrata is very similar to Banksia aemula, but Banksia aemula can be distinguished by its orange-brown, rather than grey, stems and mature leaves that are narrower than 2 cm in diameter. Banksia serrata inflorescences are generally dull grey-yellow, 2-3 mm longer, the pollen is more fusiform or cylindrical at the unopened flower tip and the follicles are smaller.

Characteristics of Saw Banksia Fruit

Banksia serrata Fruit
Source: Jane Canaway

The fruit is oval, 3-3.5 cm long, flat, and has thin wings. The seeds consist of an egg-shaped seed body, measuring 1.0-1.2 cm long and 0.9-1.1 cm wide. One side, called the outer surface, is hollow and dark brown and the other side is blackish brown and warty. The seeds are separated within the follicle by a dark brown sturdy seed separator, which is roughly the same shape as the seed, with a depression where the seed body sits adjacent to it.

Characteristics of Banksia Saw Tree

Banksia serrata Tree
Source: Brendan Casey

Saw Banksia grows as a gnarled tree reaching 15 meters or more in height, but can become much smaller in open areas. This species has wrinkled gray bark and shiny dark green serrated leaves.

Throughout its range, Banksia serrata grows exclusively on sandy soils and is usually the dominant plant in scrub or low forests. Banksia serrata is pollinated and provides food for a variety of vertebrates and invertebrates in autumn and winter, and is an important food source for honeyeaters. It is a common tree in parks and large gardens.

Benefits of Saw Banksia

The color of the wood is red to pink, resembling English oak. Banksia serrata wood has been used in shipbuilding because it has a strong and durable texture, and has a distinctive pattern.

Banksia serrata is also used as an ornamental garden and bonsai tree.

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