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Banksia for the Birds

This article was first published on 05 Aug 2011.



We’re an earthy bunch in Dunedin: we love our tuis, bellbirds and waxeyes, and many of us offer them a bowl of sugar water or a bird feeder, especially at this time of year when flowers and fruit supplies are meagre.

Another good way to encourage native birds is to plant a variety of nectar and fruit-producing trees to provide year-round food and a stopover. Native plants such as kowhai, flax and kakabeak are the obvious choices. However, there’s no need to be a purist. One thing I’ve noticed while working at Dunedin Botanic Garden is birds aren’t fussed whether a plant is native or exotic. In fact there’s one introduced tree that the nectar-feeders find irresistible at this time of the year, so irresistible that 18 tuis were once spotted in just one tree.

The Australian coast banksia, Banksia integrifolia, is a handsome, hardy tree that pops out pretty yellow bottlebrush flowers throughout the year with an abundance in autumn and winter. The flowers produce copious amounts of nectar, which in Australia is devoured by a variety of birds. Even seed-eaters like cockatoos and parrots flock to tear the cones apart and devour the seeds inside.

We’ll happily stock our gardens with exotic vegetables and fruit trees, so we can enjoy a variety of food throughout the year. Why not throw in a coast banksiatoo? Wildlife will thank you for it.

Banksia integrifolia can be seen between the upper botanic garden carpark and the aviary in the Australian collection in Dunedin Botanic Garden.

Kate Caldwell is a 3rd year apprentice at Dunedin Botanic Garden.