Pincushion proteas that rely on rodents for pollination

While the fields of the large, showy pincushions such as the silver-edge pincushions tend to steal the show at this time of the year, there is a group of other, less obvious pincushion proteas that are also flowering – but much closer to the ground.

These are the ground-hugging, rodent pollinated varietes. Yes instead of large, brightly coloured showy flowers designed to attract sugarbirds for pollination, these guys flower at ground level and have sweet, yeasty smelling flowers that are great at attracting mice.

Three of these ground creeping pincushions flowering in the Overberg at the moment are the yellow trailing pincushion (Leucospermum prostratum), the white trailing pincushion (Leucospermum pedunculatum) and the rankluisie or trident pincushion (Leucospermum heterophyllum).

Leucospermum prostratum on

The yellow trailing pincushion resprouts from an underground rootstock following fire and can form a large mat up to 4m wide. The linear leaves have pointed tips, and the dainty (25 mm), sweet scented flowerheads are bright yellow, turning orange as they mature. It grows in deep sands, mainly near the coast from the Kogelberg to the Elim hills and flowers from July to December.


Leucospermum pedunculatum on

The white trailing pincushion is single stemmed (does not resprout after fire) and forms dense mats of up to 3m in diameter. It has bright, green leaves that are linear (30-60mm long, 2-5mm wide) and generally point upwards from stout, horizontal branches. It has small (30 mm) flowerheads that are creamy-white and turn carmine as they age. It grows in a narrow stip along the coast from Danger Point to the Soetanysberg and flowers from August to June.

Leucospermum heterophyllum photographed in Elim fynbos on Geelkop

The trident pincushion has been categorised as an Endangered species according to the latest Red List of South African Plants. This low (up to 150 mm high), ground hugging shrub forms large mats up to 5 m in diameter. It has stalkless leaves that have one to three glandular teeth at the tips. The flowerheads (25 mm wide) are yellow-green turning carmine as they mature. It is restricted to gravelly, clayey soils from Flower Valley near Gansbaai to De Hoop.

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