February 15, 2020

Banksia, SLO Botanical Garden
Banksia speciosa, from the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden. This art was originally commissioned by the SLO Tribune, but it did not appear in the final story. (Watercolor and colored pencil on cold press illustration board) 

A friend said she was intrigued with the proteas I sketched and posted the first of this month, and that reminded me of this lively protea I did in spring 2001. From the little research I found online concerning proteas, it appears they are native to both Australia and South Africa. The Banksia speciosa you see here is in the protea family, but is only native to Australia. According to Sunset’s Western Garden book (2007) all Banksias are native to Australia, and few are in cultivation, but that every now and again they are sold at botanical gardens as live plants. I have seen them only once in an actual garden, and it so happens that the flower you see here was on such a plant in central CA SLO Botanical Garden back then. However, I seem to remember seeing them in various floral departments of some of our local grocery stores as cut flowers out here. In doing my little bit of protea research online it was interesting to discover Banksia speciosa produces lots of nectar and a number of Australian creatures (e.g. birds, bats, rats, possums, stingless bees and many invertebrates) need that nectar to live. It also seems that this particular flower is important to Australia’s nursery and cut flower industry. I’m sure they ship to other places besides CA. Maybe you have seen them in your area as well. (I think I saw that they can also be found as dried flowers—not really a big fan of dried flowers myself.) I guess Banksia can tolerant fires and drought conditions. In a weird way I like the idea that something so strange and wonderful can survive in a harsh and probably unforgiving environment. But it seems this rather odd and lovely flower’s existence is threatened by people clearing land. That’s probably the harshest living conditions for any living thing, as the plants can’t run away when someone shows up with a backhoe.  Maybe you are wondering, like I am, if the recent devastating fires in Australia have had an effect on this particular member of the protea family and the nurseries that grow the plants. And again, if you are like me, I certainly hope not! 

SLO botanical garden article
Botanicals for Tribune story and SLO Botanical Garden Fundraiser, spring 2001

So this 2001 story from The Tribune tells more of my personal brush with Banksia speciosa. I was asked by Jennifer English (who no longer appears to be with The Trib) to do botanicals of plants from the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden for a story about the garden. They were having a big event and Jennifer thought my art would be a nice addition to a garden map. The garden features plants from the 5 major Mediterranean climate zones which includes: CA, central coastal Chile, western Cape Province of South Africa, parts of Western and South Australia and the Mediterranean basin. Plants from these areas do well with summers that are dry (like we have here in CA) and are more drought tolerant. All of this adds up to conserving water, which seems to be a recurrent topic of discussion for those of us who live in SoCal. If you look up the SLO Botanical Garden online there is a nice section that lists all the plants they have onsite, but the Banksia speciosa is not listed there. They now list a Banksia repens, which looks similar to the speciosa, but it doesn’t have a flower like you might expect. Instead of a colorful blossom perched atop a stem, the Banksia repens just seem to pop out of the ground. In fact, they kind of remind me of tiny Totoros, or fantasy forest creatures, used in Hayao Miyazaki’s movies. I am a big fan of “My Neighbor Totoro” and most other movies he made with Studio Ghibli. 

I have already illustrated, and posted, a number of plants that can be found in the SLO Botanical Garden. And they include: Fremontodendron (December 21, 2019, April 13, 2019), Eschscholzia californica, “CA poppy” (May 7, 2017) and pelargonium, “geraniums” (March 2, 2019).

Finally, with this February 15, 2020 art and story I have now made 150 One California Girl posts in almost 3 years. Yikes! Last week I tried to limit my words with the idea that a picture was worth a 1000 words. I might now say that the word “yikes,” in this instance, is worth a 1000 words! Yes? Yikes!


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