The dioecious silver tree flowers in the spring months of September and October, bearing the male and female flowers on separate plants (2). After pollination, thought to be carried out by insects, female plants produce woody cones containing fruits and seeds (3), with the fruit ripening over several months and not being released from the cones for some years. When released, usually in the autumn months, the fruits do not immediately fall to the ground but remain loosely within the cone with each fruit's ‘parachute’ protruding. The parachute is the dried part of the old flower which, still attached to the seed, is a special adaptation for wind dispersal. The strong winds that occur on the slopes of Table Mountain eventually dislodge the fruit, and this natural parachute can be transported considerable distances (2). Large numbers of the fruits are eaten by rodents, but a sufficient number survive to allow new plants to germinate; the fruit are known to survive in the soil for 80 years (4).
Silver trees live for 15 to 80 years, depending on the intervals between the fires that occur naturally in fynbos habitat. A few taller plants survive cooler fires, but recruitment of seedlings only occurs the year following a fire (4). Silver trees are also susceptible to Phytophthora root rot, but only about five percent of the populations die each year and thus the disease is not considered a threat to the species (4).
The thousand of tiny hairs that cover the surface of each leaf give the tree its attractive silver sheen and also play an important role in protecting the plant from desiccation and herbivory (4). The intensity of the silver sheen varies with temperature; in wet weather the hairs stand erect, allowing free circulation of air around the leaves and the leaves appear fairly drab. In hot, dry weather the hairs lie flat on the leaves, and the sheen is pronounced (4).