The genus Banksia is a group of woody evergreens that ranges from prostrate shrubs to upright trees of up to 25 metres, with diverse foliage and large, complex flower heads. Each flower spike can comprise hundreds or even thousands of individual flowers; Banksia grandis, for example, has up to 6,000. Flower colouration ranges over a warm palette: cream, yellow, orange, yellow-green, red, pink and brown. Many species in this genus have a fire-tolerant trunk, from which growth will sprout following a bushfire; the trunks of others are thin-skinned and the species regenerate from seed following a fire.
Of the 173 species in the Banksia genus, all but one (which extends to Papua New Guinea and the Aru Islands) are endemic to Australia. (Until recently, dryandras had been treated as a separate genus to banksias, but new research proves their evolutionary relationship to banksias, raising the species number in this genus from 77.) Although banksias occur in every state and territory, the region of greatest number and diversity is the south-west of Western Australia – the country’s most botanically rich state. Largely coastal, banksias rarely occur in the dry centre of the continent and those species that occur in the east generally do not occur in the west, and vice versa; only B. dentata is common to both sides of the country. The survival of a number of banksias is at risk, including B. cuneata, B. brownii and B. verticillata.
Historically, banksias are significant to Australia. They are among the first floral species collected during Cook’s 1770 journey to Australia, and then scientifically described. The genus takes its name from botanist Joseph Banks, for whom this genus was most important. He and Daniel Solander collected four species at what became known as Botany Bay, during the Endeavour’s voyage. They then collected a fifth species in Queensland, drying, pressing and describing the specimens while artist Sydney Parkinson began watercolour illustrations. Well before the journey of these 18th-century imperial explorers, Aboriginal people had long used the nectar of banksias in their diet.
The stamps feature the artwork of celebrated Australian botanical artist Celia Rosser, owner and artist-in-residence at Celia Rosser Gallery in Gippsland. Celia was Monash University’s botanical artist from 1974 to 1999, where she undertook a 25-year project to illustrate Australia’s banksia species.
All illustrations are from the Monash University Collection, provided courtesy of Monash University Museum of Art.