Leucospermum vestitum (Lam.) Rourke
Common names: silky-haired pincushion (Eng.); bergluisie (Afr.)
Leucospermum vestitum is a very showy pincushion with greyish foliage and large, two-toned flowerheads that start out bright orange and mature to brilliant crimson, in spring and early summer.
A stiffly upright to rounded shrub, 1–2.5 m tall, with a spread of about 3 m, with a single, stout main stem. Leaves oblong to elliptic to narrowly ovate, 50–75 mm long and 10–30 mm wide, hairless, sessile, with 2–4 apical teeth.
Rounded flowerheads, 70–90 mm in diameter, usually borne singly, opening orange and maturing to brilliant crimson, mainly in spring to early summer (August to November), although flowers may be seen from mid-winter until mid-summer (July to January). The flowerhead is made up of many, long, narrow flowers crowded together, and a closer look at the flowers shows that the perianth (the calyx and corolla) is covered in long, silky, straight hairs. This is easiest to see when the flowers are still in bud. When the flowers open, the style emerges and the perianth curls back — so the styles make up the ‘pins’ and the perianth the ‘cushion’. When the flowers are freshly open, the overall colour of the flowerhead is orange, but as it matures, the orange of the styles deepens and the perianth takes on a deep crimson colour. Add to that, the yellow pollen presenters at the tips of the style and the silvery sheen of the hairs on the edges of the curled perianth, and it makes a very colourful show.
Fruit is an achene, released 1–2 months after flowering.
Leucospermum vestitum is assessed as Near Threatened (NT), i.e. it is likely to become at risk of extinction in the near future. Its population has decreased by nearly 30%, with an estimated loss of 26% of its lower altitude populations lost due to agriculture, urban expansion and afforestation, in the past 60 years. Its historical range has been reduced by about 50%, although this high percentage is due to the loss of the population on the Cape Peninsula more than 100 years ago. It is still common, in sparse, isolated populations, throughout its range. At present it is threatened by expansion of agriculture, invasive alien plants and too frequent fire. Its population continues to decrease.
Distribution and habitat
Leucospermum vestitum occurs on Gifberg, Cedarberg Mountains, in the Koue Bokkeveld, Hex River and Groot Winterhoek Mountains, to the Breede River Valley near Worcester. It used to occur on Lion’s Head on the Cape Peninsula and on Paarl Mountain, but is now extinct in these localities and has not been seen there since 1886. Its habitat is varied, it grows on rocky sandstone slopes and in the valleys, in Sandstone Fynbos and Alluvium Fynbos.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus Leucospermum is named from the Greek leukos, meaning ‘white’, and sperma, ‘seed’, referring to the white or light-coloured seeds of many species. The species name vestitum, means ‘clothed’ or ‘dressed’ from the Latin vestio, ‘to clothe’, probably referring to the silky hairs that clothe the perianth.
The type specimen was collected by Joseph Martin in 1788. He studied at the Paris Botanic Garden and was sent to Mauritius by the French government, and must have visited the Cape while en route to Mauritius. The species was named by Lamarck in 1792.
Leucospermum vestitum flowers are pollinated by nectar-feeding birds, such as Sunbirds and Sugarbirds.
The seeds, like those of all leucospermums, are dispersed by ants. There is a fleshy coating on the seeds, called an elaiosome, that attracts ants. The seeds fall from the flowerheads when ripe, and ants carry them away to their nests where they consume the elaiosome, but do not harm the seeds. In this way the seeds are dispersed and stored safely underground. This is known as myrmecochory. The plants are not resprouters and are killed by fire, but afterwards, the seeds in the ant nests germinate to regenerate the population.
Leucospermum vestitum is adapted to long, hot and dry summers and winters with low rainfall.
Leucospermum vestitum is a long-lasting cutflower with the long, straight stems loved by florists, and although not often seen for sale, it is suitable for cultivation for cutflowers, although it is best suited to hot dry areas in the winter-rainfall region. It is also being used in breeding programmes for Leucospermum hybrids for the garden and cutflower markets.
Growing Leucospermum vestitum
Leucospermum vestitum prefers a dry, well-drained position in sandy, acidic soil, on a north- or west-facing, rocky slope, in full sun. It is very tolerant of hot, dry conditions and well suited to water-wise or arid fynbos gardens in the winter-rainfall region. Frost tolerance is not known, but it is likely to survive short periods of frost. This species is not suited to gardens with high humidity and rich, well-watered soils.
Leucospermum vestitum can be propagated by seed or cuttings. Sow seed in late summer to autumn (March–May). Use a well-drained medium e.g. one of two parts coarse sand: one part leaf mould and one part loam. Cover the seeds with coarse, clean sand or milled bark and keep warm and moist. Seeds need alternating cold night and warm day temperatures of 4–10oC to 15–20oC, to initiate germination. Such temperatures are typical of autumn in the Western Cape and indicate the start of the rainy season. Germination can be improved if the seeds are soaked in a 1% solution of hydrogen peroxide for 24 hours. This oxygenates the seed and softens and loosens the seed coat, which should be rubbed off. Treatment with Instant Smoke Plus Seed Primer will also enhance germination. Watering the seed tray with a fungicide will prevent fungal disease. Germination takes 1–2 months and the young seedlings are ready to be potted up as soon as they have developed their first set of true leaves. Seedlings are best planted into the garden when at least 1 year old.
Take semi-hardwood tip cuttings or heel cuttings from the current season’s growth in late summer-autumn (March–May). Treat with rooting hormone and place in a well-drained medium and place under mist with bottom heat of 24oC. Good air circulation is required to prevent fungal infection.
- Goldblatt, P. & Manning, J. 2000. Cape Plants. A conspectus of the Cape flora of South Africa. Strelitzia 9. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria & Missouri Botanical Garden, Missouri.
- Rebelo et al. 2006. Leucospermum vestitum (Lam.) Rourke. National Assessment: Red List of South African plants version 2015.1. Accessed on 2016/04/21
- Rebelo, A.G. 2001. Proteas. A field guide to the proteas of southern Africa, edn 2. Fernwood Press, Vlaeberg, Cape Town.
- Rourke, J.P. 1972. Taxonomic studies on Leucospermum R.Br. Journal of South African Botany, Supplementary Volume 8
- iSpot southern Africa https://www.ispotnature.org/species-dictionaries/sanbi/Leucospermum%20vestitum
- Protea Atlas website: http://www.proteaatlas.org.za/pincush3.htm accessed 21 April 2016
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Shrub
SA Distribution: Western Cape
Soil type: Sandy
Flowering season: Spring, Early Summer
Flower colour: Red, Yellow, Orange
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Average