It is a large shrub or small tree to 6 to 7 m tall. Its leaves are narrow with fin e serrations near the end. It forms an open canopy with flowers amongst the foliage.
Originally considered a variety of B. spinulosa, but in NSW it is now considered a separate species. It is found in several disjointed populations along the east coast and ranges from northern NSW to eastern Victoria.
It is a seed-obligate, non-lignotuberous species. The tree form, single-stemmed growing up to 7 m high is often found growing together with B. spinulosa which is lignotuberous and a lowish multi-stemmed shrub rarely exceeding 2 metres.
It grows in dry sclerophyll woodland and forest on sandstone as well as heavier soils in some locations.
The leaves are narrow to 70 mm long x 5 mm wide with small teeth at the apex.
The inflorescences of Banksias are generally referred to as spikes or a spike-like structure which consists of fused racemes of paired flowers (hence it gets referred to as a conflorescence). There can be 100s of flowers in each spike. The flowers of banksias have 4 tepals (petals or sepals) in a tubular formation, 4 anthers hidden inside and an elongated carpel (female part) where the style extends outwards forming the edge of the spike (somewhat similar to individual grevillea and hakea flowers).
In this species, the flowers are generally yellow to orange with purple or black hairpin-shaped styles. They generally flower in autumn. The flower spikes can be up to 15 cm long.
The spike then turns into a cone-like structure of follicles; a fruit which splits open on one side. Each follicle has one or two winged seeds which is actually a fruit in itself called a samara. The follicles can take a long time to mature and open, usually needing a fire. Each “cone” can produce a fair amount of seed with this species having up to 100 follicles per “cone”, each up to 25 mm long.
B. cunninghamii is a fast-growing shrub that flowers in around five years from seed. The flower spikes are attractive but are often obscured by foliage. It prefers a well-drained heavy soil with some shade, and tolerates frost down to −8 °C (18 °F).
Banksias are bird attractants when in flower. At other times their seed cones may be eaten by parrots.
It should be pruned only lightly, and not below the green foliage.
Like most banksias, it can be propagated from seed.
This species has historically been a part of the Banksia spinulosa complex with a range of forms and variety exhibited. A PhD study was undertaken by Margaret Stimpson who raised the variety ranks of the complex to separate species:
– Banksia collina
– Banksia cunninghamii
– Banksia neoanglica
– Banksia vincentia
Intermediates between all of these taxa still occur.
B. cunninghamii is differentiated from B. spinulosa by having wider leaves and no lignotuber. The leaves are also flat rather than having their margins turned in towards the underside (recurved) which obscures the lower surface.
Can regenerate from seed bank after fire very readily, as well as, epicormic shoots and a lignotuber below ground.
Banksia is a now a genus of about 170 species (with the inclusion of the genus Dryandra) occurring in Australia but also 1 species in New Guinea and the Aru Islands Regency. NSW currently has about 16 species.
Banksia – named in honour of Joseph Banks (1743 – 1820), famous naturalist and botanist on the Endeavour and other expeditions, and President of the Royal Society for over 40 years. The genus was named in his honour by Linnaeus filius (Carl von Lynne – the Younger, son of the famous Carl von Lynne (Linneaus)).
cunninghamii – formally named by Ludwig Reichenbach (1793–1979), a German Botanist and Ornithologist and Director of the Dresden Natural History Museum in honour of Alan Cunningham (1791–1839), a famous English botanist and explorer of Australia who collected many plants.
This species is not considered to be at risk of extinction in the wild.
NSW Flora Online (PlantNET) – Banksia cunninghamii profile page https://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Banksia~cunninghamii
Wrigley, J.W. & Fagg, M.I. (2001). Australian Native Plants – Propagation, cultivation and use in landscaping. 4th edition. New Holland Publishers, Pty. Ltd. Australia (see varieties of Banksia spinulosa)