CIMG3049No, not the rampant environmental weed that chokes our stream-banks and roadsides, rather the tree that we now know as Silver Banksia (Banksia marginata), that used to be known as ‘Honeysuckle’. If you’re not aware that there are Banksia trees in this part of the world, don’t worry you’re not alone; they’re now rare and hard to find. However, the Honeysuckle was one of the trees described by early travelers through this country and it was certainly more widespread than today.

In describing his 1830’s journey from Sydney to Port Adelaide, an anonymous correspondent, heading SW through north-east Victoria:

“The next day we made Honeysuckle Creek …. . As for Honeysuckle it is similar to our fir tree and bears a pod like it, which blossoms, I believe, but it can bear no comparison with the English plant of that name.” (The Australian (Sydney, NSW : 1824 – 1848), Saturday 30 March 1839, page 3). [Thanks to a comment on this post, I can offer that these words were most likely penned by John Webster, an ‘overlander’, who passed through our district in 1839. Much later in life, when he was 90 years of age, a collection of his recollections was published in book form,Reminiscences of an old settler in Australia and New Zealand, by John Webster, 1908. The title is available from several Australian libraries (thanks learnearnandreturn)]I’d beg to differ regarding the comparison with fir trees, but that’s not the point here. The original name for Violet Town was ‘Honeysuckle’ and the stream running through the town is still known as Honeysuckle Creek.

But try to find a Honeysuckle tree now! There are still a handful of sites in the Ranges where these trees grow, but they’ve pretty much disappeared from the landscape. In a recent edition of the Granite News (10.3.2013), Peg Lade lamented the local extinction of two of the four populations she knew of. And in the 24.2.2013 Granite news, Janet Hagen also reported the death of a large and very old Honeysuckle tree at Ruffy.

Should we be concerned that natural stands of these trees are disappearing? And how widespread were they anyway? These questions were posed by Assoc. Prof. Ian Lunt in a recent thought-provoking post on his Vegetation Ecology blog – worth a read.

Here’s a map from 1869 showing the distribution of different vegetation types in the  southern part of the Strathbogie Ranges. The dappled lilac colour indicates ‘Honeysuckle’ and the black line (Ian’s mark-up)  shows the extent of Honeysuckle in the Highlands-Caveat district. The map shading suggests there were lots of Honeysuckle trees in this area at the time the map was produced, but is the map accurate?

Detail from BSmyth map 1869
Detail from BSmyth map 1869
Ruffy 2012 Banksia zone 1
The equivalent area on a current map (courtesy Ian Lunt)

Notwithstanding Peg and Janet’s observations (related above), does anyone else know of remnant Honeysuckle trees (not recent plantings) in any parts of the Strathbogies and surrounds and could a large stand of Honeysuckle, as suggested by this historical map, have ever existed?

If you have any information about this, please leave a comment or get in touch; there’s a great deal of interest in unraveling this conundrum.

Thanks to Ian for maps and asking the question and to Loretta for the Trove link.