At a recent meeting I gave a demonstration of turning a Banksia nut. A fairly lengthy discussion took place in relation to the origins and history of the Banksia Nut.Some members thought that they originated from Yandles shop at about £2 each!! so I thought I would enlighten those few with a short article in the Newsletter.

Banksia is a genus of about 75 species in the Protea Family. All occur in Australia. Evidence suggests that Banksia or Banksia-like plants have existed for over 40 million years. The first humans to discover and make use of them were undoubtedly the Australian Aborigines who used the nectar from the flowers as part of their diet. The first Europeans to observe Banksia were probably Dutch explorers during the l7th and 18th centuries. However no botanical collections were made until the discovery of the east coast of Australia by Captain James Cook on the "Endeavour" in April 1770. On that ship were botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander who collected many new species of plant from Botany Bay. The Banksia was named in honour of Joseph Banks’ contribution to botany.


Banksia flowers are quite small, but they occur in dense clusters, which in some species can number several thousand individual flowers. The flowers are followed by large woody cones in which the seeds are contained within closed follicles, two seeds per follicle: to the majority of species these follicles remain tightly closed unless stimulated to open by heat, such as following a bush fire, but with a few species the seed is released annually. The seeds themselves have a papery wing that allows them to be distributed on the wind.

Most Banksia are medium shrubs, but some are prostrate and a few grow into large trees some 5 to l0 metres tall.  Those species native to areas where fires occur at regular intervals often have a lignotuber, a woody swelling at or below ground level from which regeneration can occur if the above ground stems are destroyed.

Banksia nuts are hard and solid and are easy to turn, but they do create a large amount of flying seed and chip dust, some sharp and dangerous, so use of a good dust mask and visor are recommended. The nuts vary in size (but not price) from 4" to 9" in length by 3" to 5" diameter. They will have been dried for a number of years after picking from the tree prior to use. They turn easily and finish well leaving a good, deep shine to the hard brown surface. Interest is added by the rough surface area, which can be left natural on some items, and the velvety brown fibrous layer immediately under the surface. For best results use a liquid friction polish or finishing oil as a wax finish tends to clog the open seed pores of the nut which extend through to its centre core. The obvious way to mount on a lathe is to cut off one or both ends to a flat surface and mount between centres. Form a spigot for a chuck if the item is to be hollowed in any way, or turn to completion between centres for items such as fruit etc..