By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer
What is Leucospermum? Leucospermum is a genus of flowering plants that belongs to the Protea family. The Leucospermum genus consists of approximately 50 species, most native to South Africa where its natural habitat includes mountain slopes, scrubland and forests. Depending on the variety, Leucospermum ranges from low-growing ground covers to small trees. Some varieties have become popular indoor plants, valued for the colorful, pincushion-like blooms. Read on to learn how to grow Leucospermum in your home or garden.
Outdoors, Leucospermum hardiness is limited to growing in the warm climates of USDA plant zones 9 through 11.
Leucospermum growing conditions include full sunlight and poor, well-drained, acidic soil. Drainage is so critical, in fact, that the plant is often placed on elevated mounds or slopes.
Similarly, these plants may not survive in rich soil or in crowded conditions where air circulation is limited. For this reason, whether grown indoors or out, Leucospermum plants should not be fertilized.
Indoor plants prefer sandy, well-drained potting mix. Bright, indirect light, along with temperatures between 65 and 75 F. (18 to 24 C.) produces their lush blooms.
As mention above, Leucospermum plant care consists primarily of keeping the plant well drained and aerated. Although the plant is somewhat drought-tolerant, it benefits from regular water during warm, dry weather. Water early in the morning so the plant has all day to dry before the arrival of cooler temperatures in evening. Water at the base of the plant and keep the foliage as dry as possible.
You may want to add a layer of mulch to keep the soil dry and staunch the growth of weeds. However, keep the mulch away from the base of the plant to prevent rot and other problems caused by excess moisture.
Indoor plants should be watered deeply, but only when the potting mix is dry. Like outdoor plants, the foliage should be kept as dry as possible. Be careful not to overwater, and never let the pot stand in water.
Whether Leucospermum is grown inside or out, be sure to remove fading blooms to encourage continued blooming.
This article was last updated on
Commonly known as the pincushion due to its cluster of needle-like flower heads, Leucospermum is a shrub that produces flowers in orange and red. Leucospermum takes its name from the Greek words leukos and sperma, which mean white and seed respectively, a reference to the white seeds of many Leucospermum species.
As its common name suggests, the flowers of the Leucospermum resemble a pincushion with a rounded head of springy hooks that curl upright. It is an evergreen shrub that grows to a height of between 0.5m and 5m. The leaves of the plant are tough and leathery and grow in spirals around the stem.
The Leucospermum is native to South Africa and Zimbabwe, where they grow in a variety of different habitats including mountain slopes, forest and scrubland. When they flower their nectar attracts a variety of insects, which in turn attract a large number of insectivore birds, making it popular attraction wherever it is grown. These birds help the pollen transfer between the plants and are vital for them to reproduce.
Leucospermum is propagated by cuttings that are taken from November to March and then placed in a growing house until they are ready to be planted out. The flower heads appear from August to October. Leucospermum can be grown from seed but it is a fairly complicated process that involves a lot of preparation because the seeds need very specific conditions for germination, namely a smoke seed primer that contains substances that stimulates seed germination.
Leucospermum comes from the Protea family and is a genus that contains around 50 different species. The common feature of members of this family is the inflorescences of small flowers that are densely packed into a compact head.
Leucospermum prefers milder climates and while it is a popular garden plant in South Africa, if it is grown somewhere colder it should be moved indoors over the winter months. It needs well-drained soil that has low levels of phosphates and nitrates and should be watered moderately to keep it looking at its best.
Did you know?
One particular species of Leucospermum, Leucospermum glabrum, was classed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species in 2007.
© Interflora British Unit All Rights Reserved.
The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow all cookies" to give you the very best experience.
Native to South Africa, leucadendron is a large group of plants related to protea. Some leucadendron cultivars, such as "Silver Tree" (Leucadendron argenteum), reach heights of 25 to 30 feet and are grown primarily for their foliage. Others, such as "Pisa" or "Safari Sunset," reaching the 4- to 8-foot range, are valued for their flowers. Leucadendron is suitable for growing in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9b through 10b.
Plant leucadendron in well-drained, sandy or gritty soil, where the plant is exposed to full sunlight.
Test your soil pH, as Leucadendron prefers acidic soil with a pH below 6. Soil tests are available at most garden centers and nurseries. If your soil pH is above 6, dig in 3 to 4 inches of peat moss, which is highly acidic. You can also add elemental sulfur at a rate of approximately 6 to 10 pounds for every 1,000 feet of garden space.
Allow space around leucadendron to provide air circulation. Don't allow the shrub to touch other plants.
Water leucadendron deeply in the absence of rain by allowing a hose to trickle slowly near the trunk for one to two hours. As a general rule, one watering per week is sufficient. Allow the soil to dry between waterings and never water if the soil is still wet from the previous irrigation. After the first one to two years, leucadendron requires water only during extended dry periods.
Spread 1 to 3 inches of mulch around the shrub to conserve moisture, keep the roots cool and prevent weed growth. Use an organic mulch such as pine needles or wood chips. Don't allow the mulch to mound up against the trunk, as the moisture may cause the trunk to rot.
Fertilize leucadendron only if growth appears stunted, as the plant doesn't respond well to heavy fertilization. Apply a low-phosphorus, water-soluble fertilizer with an N-P-K ratio such as 6-0-4. Mix the fertilizer at a rate of one-fourth the mixture recommended on the container.
Prune leucadendron during and after flowering to keep the shrubs full and vigorous. Prune the branches above at least four leaves and never prune leafless branches. Clip off wilted flowers to keep the plant tidy and encourage the development of new blooms.
Plant does not flower in January
Plant does not flower in February
Plant does not flower in March
Plant does not flower in April
Plant does flower in June
Plant does flower in July
Plant does flower in August
Plant does not flower in September
Plant does not flower in October
Plant does not flower in November
Plant does not flower in December
Leucospermum cordifolium is an upright, evergreen shrub in the Protaceae family, native to South Africa and Zimbabwe. Like proteas, it has a globe-shaped pincushion-type flowers in red and yellow. While commonly grown in South African gardens, it’s less well known in the UK. Indeed, Leucospermum cordifolium is farmed for the cut flower industry, so you’re more likely to have seen the blooms in bouquets, than growing in gardens.
However, that’s not to say that Leucospermum cordifolium can’t be grown in the UK. You’ll just need to offer protection in winter or grow it in a container, which you can move indoors in autumn.
Grow Leucospermum cordifolium in well-drained, nutrient-poor, acidic soil in full sun. Water sparingly and don’t feed. In autumn, move container-grown plants indoors for winter, or wrap the plant to protect it from frost.
With striking goblet-shaped flowers, proteas are an amazing combination of fluffy centres and brightly coloured bracts, which look almost too fabulous to be real.
And just as beautiful are the protea’s close cousins, leucadendrons, leucospermums and serrurias, all with incredible flowers that can offer splendid colour to a garden.
It’s often assumed that proteas and their relatives are Australian natives, but they in fact hail from South Africa. However, they are closely related to some of our showiest plants, such as banksias, grevilleas and waratahs.
Proteas put on a gorgeous display in gardens, mainly through the late winter and spring months. They are tough and hardy evergreen plants, will thrive in exposed positions with poor soils, and are also both heat and cold tolerant (from -6° to 40°).
In terms of their preferred climates, they’ll grow in most regions except for the more humid zones. However, there are two things they won’t negotiate – one is full sun and the other is perfectly free-draining soil. Get those right and you can invite the protea gang to your garden party!
Probably the best-known member of this genus, the spectacular blooms of king protea (Protea cynaroides) symbolise beauty, strength and the ability to thrive under tough conditions. If there’s no room for a king at your place, seek out the compact form Protea ‘Little Prince’. Another favourite among the hundreds of available varieties is Protea ‘Special Pink Ice’, whose superb flowers look just as good in the garden as in a vase.
Often called pin-cushion proteas, leucospermums are reminiscent of the NSW waratah, with their stunning upward-curving flowers. As rounded low shrubs, they’re well suited to mass plantings and love sandy soils. They’re dramatic to display in wide shallow pots, and make for stunning cut flowers. Leucospermums are best suited to cooler mountain regions, temperate zones and coolish coastal areas, but will succumb to high humidity and summer rains.
Different and unique, Serruria ‘Blushing Bride’ is a sweet plant boasting exceptionally beautiful creamy flowers, with the cultivar ‘Pretty in Pink’ looking like pink-cheeked bridesmaids. They’re best suited to pots with very free drainage, and unless you are lucky, they won’t last much longer than a season or two. Enjoy their ephemeral beauty while it lasts, then replace them – it’s cheaper than a bunch of flowers!
Closely related to proteas, leucadendrons (sometimes called cone bush) are grown for their attractive tulipshaped flowers and vibrant leaf colour, intensifying to fabulous bursts in autumn and winter. They’re versatile and can be used as specimen shrubs, in containers or as screening plants. As an alternative to the common red photinia hedge, consider using Leucadendron ‘Safari Sunset’, or ‘Inca Gold’ with its mellow yellow hues. Newer varieties ‘Burgundy Sunset’ and ‘Gypsy Red’ are also stunning. For something larger, try Leucadendron argenteum (also known as silver tree).
More sun means more flowers, so give them an open sunny spot with plenty of air circulation. Raised beds and sunny banks are ideal, while potted plants will enjoy a sun-drenched position facing north.
Free-draining soil is a must for members of the protea family. Sandy, gravelly or open loam is ideal, and raised beds or mounds will also increase their chances of survival. And they’ll grow happily in large pots filled with a native plant potting mix.
Proteas and their relatives have a root system that absorbs nutrients quickly, requiring only a small amount of controlledrelease fertiliser. Use a formulation for native plants at half the recommended rate.
Once established, proteas have very low water requirements. After the first year, water about once a week, especially during dry periods or when they’re in bud and flower. Young or potted plants may dry out faster, so water a bit more often.
Picking the flowers is the best way to keep the plants tidy and compact. Remove spent flower heads with a good length of stem, leaving new growth behind. Tip-pruning young plants in spring and summer will also encourage bushy growth.
Tip: Prune only the flowered stems of proteas – un-flowered stems are next season’s blooms.
Proteas dislike root disturbance, so don’t dig around them. Apply a leaf or bark mulch around the drip line (away from the trunk) and pull out any weeds by hand.
If you would like to incorporate a selection of the protea family in your garden’s design, here are our top ideas to help you get started.
Hedges and screens
Select larger-growing varieties of leucadendrons and proteas (that will reach above 2m) to create low-maintenance hedges. They’ll rival traditional hedge choices and add great life to your garden – and your neighbours will thank you for the injection of colour.
Patios and verandah
Fabulous choices for containers include low-growing Leucospermum ‘Calypso Red’ and ‘Hullabaloo’, lowgrowing Protea ‘Little Prince’, Leucadendron ‘Strawberry Fair’ and ‘Possum Magic’, and serruria.
Flowers in all seasons
Different proteas flower in different seasons, so plant a variety to extend the floral display over the year. Don’t forget the intense autumn and winter foliage colour of Leucadendron species.
Border plants and rounded shapes
Mounding low-growers (under 1m) have marvellous potential as border plants, or for massing in raised beds or on embankments. Consider Leucospermum ‘Calypso Red’, Leucadendron ‘Strawberry Fair’ and Leucadendron ‘Summer Sun’. Try teaming them with the low-growing Banksia ‘Birthday Candles’.
Provide pincushion flowers with an inch of water while they’re establishing their root systems. After that, the plants can tolerate periods of drought. Deadheading is laborious on plants that have so many small flowers on individual stems, so you can shear the plant in midsummer when the blossom output is low to encourage a new flush of blooms in early fall. Pincushion flowers are light feeders a bimonthly feeding with a balanced flower fertilizer during the growing season will keep the flowers coming.