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.
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.
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
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