Leucospermum oleifolium (P.J. Bergius) R.Br.

Family: Proteaceae
Common name: Overberg pincushion.

Leucospermum oleifolium

One of the most rewarding and charming pincushions to plant on its own in a small garden, or together with other fynbos plants in a larger garden.

Leucospermum oleifolium is an erect, rounded shrub up to 1 m tall and about 1.5 m in diameter, with a single main stem. The inflorescences are about 4 cm across, in clusters of up to five individual flowerheads at the end of the branches. They open over an extended period of time with the result that one plant provides a colourful spectacle for about four months, from the middle of August to the end of December. The flowerheads open as a pale yellow, which soon turns orange and becomes a brilliant crimson with age.

The natural habitat of Leucospermum oleifolium is in the South-Western Cape, from the Du Toit's Kloof to the Caledon Swartberg. The plants often occur in extensive, dense stands, where they protect one another from prevailing winds. Together with the other fynbos plants a dense cover is established which prevents compaction, keeps the soil cool and reduces the rate of evaporation.

Bees visiting Leucospermum oleifoliumDuring flowering time numerous birds pollinate the flowers and are an added attraction. In the early hours of the morning the abundant nectar flow attracts a variety of small insects, which in their turn attract the Cape Sugar bird as well as Sunbirds. These insectivorous birds make use of the small insects as well as the nectar and in the process transfer pollen from one flower to the other. The flowers are not self-pollinating and depend on the small Scarab beetles and the birds. The birds are accustomed to the visitors in the garden and provide great photo opportunities when feeding on the flowers. Only a few large hard nut-like seeds are produced by each inflorescence and in their natural environment the seeds are collected by ants, stored in the soil and germinate only after a fire has killed the mature plants and returned the nutrients back to the soil.

Growing Leucaspermum oleifolium

When Leucospermum oleifolium is planted in the garden, the natural habitat should be kept in mind and the following points are very important for choosing a site: good drainage, a sunny aspect, good air circulation and adequate water. The plants do not like to have their roots disturbed and it is a good idea to put a thick layer of mulch (milled bark, rough compost, leaf litter) around the plant. This will suppress weed growth, keep the soil moist and the roots cool. No manure should be used, although well-matured compost mixed into the soil before planting can be beneficial.

Leucospermum oleifolium growing in Kirstenbosch

The recommended planting distance is 0.65 m and the planting hole should be just slightly larger than the root ball. During the first two years the young plants must be watered regularly. The plants are fairly long lived when planted in a suitable position. They are very sensitive to the fungal disease Phytophthora cinnamomeum and by the time the disease is noted, it is too late to try and save the plant, but otherwise the plants are quite problem free.

Leucospermum oleifolium can be propagated by seed or from cuttings.

Seed is sown at the end of February when the nights start to cool off. For best results always use fresh seed. Soak Leucospermum seed in water to which hydrogen peroxide has been added, at the ratio of 1% of the total volume. This loosens the outer seedcoat and oxygenates the seed. The softened seedcoat is rubbed off. Dust the seed with a systemic fungicide. Sow on a well-drained medium, firm down and cover with a layer of sand in an open seedbed in full sun or in a seed-tray placed in a sunny position. Germination starts after three to four weeks. The seedlings will have to be pricked out in batches, as the seed germinates at different times. If the root is very long and has been removed without damaging the root-tip, the root-tip should be pinched off to promote root growth.

Cultivars or hybrids are propagated by cuttings, which can be made from November to March. The cuttings are semi-hardwood, 6-10 cm long, of the current season's growth. The cuttings are dipped for about four seconds in a rooting hormone solution and placed in a growing house with bottom heat (25ºC) and intermittent mist. The young seedlings or cuttings grow fast and are ready to be planted out after a year. Three years after sowing the plants will produce their first flowers.

Leucospermum oleifolium is particularly attractive planted in the foreground of a planting with taller Proteaceae like Leucospermum cordifolium, Leucadendron tinctum, or Protea neriifolia in the background. The flowers are excellent as cut flowers in a mixed arrangement.

Hanneke Jamieson
Kirstenbosch NBG
October 2000

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