It is a large shrub or small tree to 6 to 7 m tall. Its leaves are narrow with fine 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 2m.
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 flowers are generally yellow to orange with purple or black hairpin-shaped styles. They generally flower in autumn. The flower spikes (termed a conflorescence as it is considered a cluster of fused racemes) can be up to 15 cm 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 resembles Banksia spinulosa (Hairpin Banksia) from which it has been separated.
Banksia – Named by Carl von Lynne “The Younger” (1741–1783 (son of Carl von Lynne (Linnaeus) (1707–1778)) commemorating Sir Joseph Banks who accompanied Captain James Cook on his voyage to Botany Bay in 1770.
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.
Thiele, Kevin; Ladiges, Pauline Y. (1996). “A cladistic analysis of Banksia (Proteaceae)”. Australian Systematic Botany. 9 (5): 661–733. doi:10.1071/SB9960661.
Banksia cunninghamii Sieber ex Rchb., PlantNET: The Plant Information Network System of the Botanic Gardens Trust.