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The form of this species varies across its wide range. On the Victorian Volcanic Plain Bioregion, it grew in the form of a small tree. In mature trees the foliage is dense, dark green with 'silver' undersides and the grey bark is creased and warty.
On the Volcanic Plains near Melbourne, this tree is almost extinct in the wild, being restricted to a few dozen trees in a single location. Early accounts of the area suggest it was a widespread tree characteristic of the stony knolls and higher ground that dot the Plains Grassland. The remnant trees grow in boggy conditions rather different to the typical description of them occurring on Stony rises. It is possible that the remaining trees represent a provenance adapted to wetter condition. Certainly in my (BB) experience, these trees have grown better in moist area rather than the dry rocky areas (where the trees often die). I seen a large though restricted population on a Volcanic Plains site near Ballarat. In other areas of Victoria the tree may be found on Granite outcrops and alluvial sediments in the floodplains in the Northern Slopes Bioregion. It occurs sandy plains west of Stawell and it also is found on the slopes sandstone mountains in Gariwerd (Grampians Range).
The tree produces abundant flowers as it matures that produce a long-lasting source of nectar much favoured by nectar-feeding birds. New Holland Honeyeaters Phylidonyris novaehollandiae will set up a territory around a flowering tree and defend it against other flocks and other honey-eater species.
Banksia marginata has short-lived seed. The best germination will occur in the first winter/spring after collection. If seed is sown in the second year after collection, the germination will be reduced to about 20-30%.
Germinates best if sown in winter/spring, and germinates poorly if sown in summer temperatures.