Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Banksias fire my imagination

My drawing challenge at present is a coast banksia (Banksia integrifolia) which grows naturally here on Phillip Island.

This banksia -- in flower, and with distinctive fruiting cones -- would have been one of the first trees seen by the English naturalist Sir Joseph Banks when he came ashore at Botany Bay in New South Wales, in late April 1770.

Up to 25 m tall, this long-lived tree stands out in the low wind-swept coastal vegetation. Its pale yellow flower spikes resemble candles, especially when touched by the last rays of light, at sundown.

Even as a young child I loved its knobbly fruiting cones, and imagined all manner of faces within the closed and opening seeds. I used to peel away the material beneath the outer crust to reveal a chocolate brown velvety layer, a delight to my young senses.

Most Australian children grew up with May Gibbs' books 'Snugglepot and Cuddlepie', in which bad banksia men feature, along with memorable banksia inspired drawings. To close my eyes and run my fingers over a knobbly banksia cone is to enter a sensory wonderland.

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