Saturday, January 19, 2019
In the Field: Leucospermum
These chic flowers are all style… or perhaps better said, all styles. In other words, their lively, round heads are formed mainly by the long, sprout-like structures, each one ending in a globular knob called a pollen presenter. Together, the mass of styles look a lot like pins bristling from a “pincushion”, a similarity that has given rise to the popular name for this genus.
So appropriate is the name “Pincushion Protea” that it has in fact replaced the original South African name of “Luisies” which refers to the grayish-white, rounded seeds found crumpled in the dried flower-heads.
Leucospermum comprises some forty-eight species, of which all but three are endemic to South Africa’s Cape Province. Flowering time is generally early winter through late spring. Unlike flowers of the genus Protea, which rely on their showy bracts for visual appeal, leucospermum put all their art into the colors of the flowers themselves as well as the flowing shape of each curving component.
In the 1970's the University of Hawaii’s Protea Research Project started working on an exclusive collection of new and improved cultivars of pincushions. The goals were aimed at improved color, increased vase life and good stem length. The results - some amazing and gorgeous hybrids, many of which have quite complex ancestry, some with even ten species parents.