Mimetes splendidus Salisb. ex Knight
Common names: splendid pagoda (Eng.); pragstompie (Afr.)
A gorgeous, shimmering, silver-foliaged shrub, that vibrates with luminescent light on its salmon-pink flowerheads, during the winter season.
Mimetes splendidus is an erect, evergreen shrub with a single stem at the base that reaches 2.5 m high. Stems are hairless, brown when old and reddish green when young. Mimetes splendidus produces hairy, silver leaves with 3 or 4 glandular teeth, forming the shape of a tongue as the middle of the leaf slightly bends inwards. The leaves are lanceolate to elliptic, lack stipules and leaf stalks, and are 40–55 mm long and 12–25 mm wide.
The cylindrical flowerheads are 80–120 mm long and 60–80 mm in diameter and comprises of a number of headlets made up of 10–14 flowers. The leaves on the headlets are bright pink, and longer than the involucral bracts. The pollen presenter is 5–7 mm long, at the tip of a 45–55 mm long yellow style.
Mimetes splendidus produces flowers from autumn until spring (May to September) and produces them in abundance in mid-winter (May to July). The plants release the seeds 2–6 months after flowering.
Mimetes splendidus is a rare species that is facing the threat of extinction in its 3 natural populations. According to Red List of South African plants M. splendidus is assessed as Endangered (EN). The population size is declining because of invasive species, afforestation and too frequent fires (fire that comes too soon after a previous fire and before the population has stabilized). This species begins to defoliate the lower branches in its 15th year and reaches maturity in the 20th, and individuals rarely persist to 25 years in the natural habitat.
Distribution and habitat
Mimetes splendidus occurs in 3 known areas, namely the Western Langeberg, Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma Mountains. They are found growing in the Fynbos Biome in soil derived from sandstone, on moist south-facing slopes in peaty soils, at 600–1 200 m above sea level, as single individuals or in small groups of up to 40 plants.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Mimetes is one of 14 genera of the Proteaceae, and the genus comprises of 13 species which are all endemic to the southwestern and southern parts of the Western Cape. Mimetes means ‘imitator’ because plants in this genus resemble those in the genus Leucospermum (the pincushions). The species name splendidus means ‘splendid’.
In 1809, Richard Anthony Salisbury wrote that Mimetes splendidus was discovered on the moist part of the mountains near Barbier’s Kraal, by Mr James Niven. Barbier’s Kraal farm was well known in Outeniqualand in the eighteenth century, by offering refreshment and shelter to both human and beast. It is indicated that today, Barbier’s Kraal is tucked away above Wilderness in the southern foothills of the Outeniqua Mountains. Hinrich Lichtenstein, a tutor to Governor J.W. Janssen’s children, said that the farm was named Barbier’s Kraal from the time that the colonist cut the footpath through the woods, as he made a vow not to shave his beard until the work was accomplished. However, it is believed that this colonist had many slaves to assist him, and he may have enjoyed the time off from shaving while completing the work.
Mimetes splendidus was never successfully cultivated in Europe or England during the nineteenth century. This species is now more adaptable in cultivation as it has been grafted by a few South African specialists. In 1973, L. Guthrie was the first person to draw Mimetes splendidus and the detailed drawing by artist Ellaphie Ward-Hilhorst brought it to the attention of nature lovers.
Mimetes splendidus is pollinated by nectar-feeding birds, as are other species of Mimetes. This species is a reseeder, which means it is killed by fire and regenerates by banked (stored) seed, as are all the other Mimetes species, except for M. cucullatus which is also a resprouter that can regenerate after fire by means of its lignotuber.
This species produces smooth, nut-like seeds covered with an elaiosome, which ants feed on. The ants will carry the seeds to their nest underground and remove or eat the elaiosome and leave the seed undamaged in their nest, where it is also protected from fire and other animals. These native ants do no harm to the seeds. Rodents, korhaans, pigs and squirrels eat the seeds. Alien invader Argentine ants also feed on the elaiosome, but they do not bury the seed in their nest and the exposed seeds are eaten by rodents, birds or burned by fire. The seeds that are stored underground will remain dormant and begin to germinate after senescent plants are removed by fire, and when the soil temperature is cool during the night and hot during the day (the longer night and shorter day, typical of autumn weather).
Grafted plants grow well in the garden, in full sun, with companion fynbos plants. It is an excellent pot plant in a deep container.
Growing Mimetes splendidus
Mimetes splendidus is difficult to propagate by cuttings and seeds, and is difficult to keep alive in cultivation. Cuttings and seedlings are prone to many diseases. This species is best propagated by grafting and grafted plants are shown to be vigorous and more adaptable in the granitic soil at Kirstenbosch. Mimetes splendidus can be grafted on the scions of the hybrid Leucospermum ‘Veld Fire’, a cross between Leucospermum glabrum and L. conocarpodendron subsp. conocarpodendron, which has resistance to most of the pathogens affecting Mimetes. Leucospermum ‘Veldfire’ roots very well and has long stems or internodes. The grafted plant can sustain the longevity and resistance of the plant in the garden.
To prepare the rootstock, take semi-hardwood cuttings in autumn or spring and treat them with a rooting hormone to stimulate rooting. Place your cuttings in a well-drained and aerated growing medium of 70% perlite and 30% fine bark or coarse sand and finely milled pine bark. Insert the cuttings in the open trays with sufficient space between each cuttings to allow air circulation and place them in the heated benches of 25°C, under intermittent mist. Regularly treat the cuttings with a fungicide to prevent fungal infection. Remove the dead leaves and wilting cuttings until your cuttings are rooted. The cutting begins to root after 4 weeks. Move the rooted cuttings to the hardening-off house for about 2 weeks and transfer cuttings into 1l bags using the mixture of well-drained, acid medium. The smaller the plastic bag or pot the easier it is to work with when grafting.
Always select the healthiest and uninfected scions from the current season’s growth, early in the morning, when the temperature is cool. Make sure to take cuttings of the new growth that is mature enough, as immature growth will dehydrate and wilt. Always cut the soft part of the scion to reduce water loss. At Kirstenbosch, 2 techniques are used to graft Mimetes splendidus, wedge and rind grafting. Wedge graft is used when the scions and rootstock having the same cambium size and if the rootstock cambium is bigger than the scion, then the rind graft is used.
Peeling off the bark can damage the cambium if the rootstock is immature or on the primary shoot. Use the correct, sterilized tool and a sharp knife and a clean workbench. Ensure both rootstock and scion cambiums are matched. Bind the scion with budding tape to hold up the graft and use the parafilm over the binding tape from top to the bottom. Seal the tip of the scion immediately after grafting with a tree seal to prevent disease and insects that can possibly enter through the opened or pruned areas.
During the hot months, reduce the sunlight penetration by putting a shade screen system in the greenhouse. Place your grafted plants under the fogging system to cool the environment and provide humidity, which keeps the leaves moist. Monitor the grafts regularly at this stage. Remove any new shoots from the rootstock as this will weaken the development of the scion. Remove the budding tapes when you see the swelling of the callus.
All grafts that take, are moved in the nursery and placed under shade net for few months before they can be planted in the garden. Mimetes splendidus can be planted directly in the garden or grown in pot in a well-drained fynbos soil. In the garden, keep the soil moist during the hot dry season, by mulching your bed with acid mulch or pine needles of about 5 mm thick. The mulch will keep the roots cool, keep moisture in the soil and reduce the growth of weeds and keep the sensitive roots free from disturbance. Chipping mulch is recommended, as the chips break down very slowly and release small amounts of nutrients to the plant. Ensure that plants receive good ventilation.
Mimetes splendidus is susceptible to Phytophthora and does not suffer many pest attacks.
- Duncan, G., Brown, N. & Nurrish, L. 2013. Grow proteas. Kirstenbosch Gardening Series. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Cape Town.
- Protea Atlas Project. Meanings of scientific names. http://www.proteaatlas.org.za/meanings.htm
- Rebelo, A.G. 2001. Proteas. A field guide to the proteas of southern Africa. Fernwood Press, Vlaeberg, Cape Town.
- Rebelo, A.G., et al. 2006. Mimetes splendidus Salisb. ex Knight. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2017.1. Accessed on 2019/02/11
- Rourke, J.P. & Lincoln, T. 1982. Mimetes: an illustrated account of Mimetes Salisbury and Orothamnus Pappe, two notable Cape genera of the Proteaceae. Tiyan Publishers, Cape Town .
- Van der Kooy, F. 1978. Mimetes splendidus. Veld & Flora. 64 (3) 85
- Wikipedia. Mimetes splendidus https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mimetes_splendidus. Accessed 11/02/2019
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Shrub
SA Distribution: Western Cape
Soil type: Sandy
Flowering season: Spring, Autumn, Winter
Flower colour: Red, White, Pink, Yellow
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Challenging