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Most Australians who grew up in the 60s are familiar with the May Gibbs stories about Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, two little gum nuts that have adventures in the Australian bush, helped by lizards, birds, possums and other native animals. The bad guys were ‘the bad bad banksia men’ modelled after the cones that are left once the banksia flower stems have fallen out and the cones have hardened. There are 76 banksia species and the banksia is named after Sir Joseph Banks, a naturalist who travelled to Australia with Captain James Cook. If you are familiar with the banksia tree it is easy to see where Gibbs got the inspiration for the bad bad banksia men as they mostly look kind of wicked.. but there are friendly and jovial ‘banksia men’ to be found, like this little guy that I spotted at North Head, Manly, Sydney on a recent trip.
I’m not sure where this tree comes from but it does bear a resemblance to native Australian plants – and indeed may be one as there are a few in surrounding gardens. This particular spreading tree is around 6 foot tall and is growing in the Coffs Harbour Botanical Gardens. The common name is Powderpuff. Each flower is around 3inches in diameter and the ‘petals’ are so fine they become transparent on the end unless you look very closely in the right light and then you can see the little stamens.