The silver-edge pincushion – a story of sugarbirds, ants and fire

Leucospermum patersonii on

The bright orange flowers of Leucospermum patersonii (the silver-edge pincushion) act as a ‘landing pad’ for sugarbirds which delve down into the flowers with their long beaks to extract nectar.

The pollen is placed onto the birds heads by the long incurved styles. The plant only produces a few large, precious seeds per flower head. These ripen by late summer and drop to the ground where their waxy elaisome (seed cover) attracts indigenous ants who carry the seed underground into their nests.


myrmecochory on

Once in the nests, the ants devour the energy-rich seed coating, leaving the seed safely ‘planted’ out of harms way. Ants are respeonsible for dispersing approximately 170 species of Proteaceae and many other plant species in the fynbos. The seeds lay dormant underground until nutrients fromthe ash of bush-fires leach down through the earth. These nutrients, together with sufficient moisture and cool winter temperatures break the seeds dormancy, causing the seeds to germinate in the first winter following fire. Without the sugarbirds, the ants, the fire and our cool Cape winters, this species would be unable to reproduce and play its crucial role in the ecology of the fynbos.

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