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Coastal banksia is a large, long-lived shrub or small tree that grows up to about 15m high. Leaves are narrow oval/spoon-shaped, leathery, and dark, shiny green on the upper surface with white beneath. Individual flowers, appearing in May-July, are very narrow (10 - 15mm) and greenish-yellow; forming upright, broad cylinders 9 - 12cm long. Hard wooden cones follow, with a covering of brown felt-like hairs, which may stay on a tree for a long time after flowering. The flowers produce nectar that is attractive to birds like tui. Preferred habitat is within 50km of the coast, ranging from coastal dunes to subalpine tussock grasslands.
Coastal banksia is tolerant of a wide range of habitats and conditions, including salty soils and estuaries. It is drought and frost tolerant, but prefers well-drained soils. Coastal banksia is likely to outcompete native plants as it is fast growing with a high seed output. Flowering begins at around 4 - 6 years from seed. Unlike some banksias, the seed is released spontaneously on reaching maturity in late summer. Seed is wind dispersed up to at least 300m.