Spicy conebush (Leucadendron tinctum)

Also known as: daphnoides, grandiflorum, mountain rose, rose cockade
GenusLeucadendron (1)
SizeHeight: up to 1.3 m (2)

This species has not yet been classified by the IUCN.

With its pleasant, spicy scented leaves, and striking green inflorescences, the spicy conebush is an attractive feature of the Cape Floristic Region, South Africa. The spicy conebush is a medium sized, shrubby bush, arising from a singe stem, with narrow tear-drop shaped leaves. In common with other Leucadendron species, the leaves surrounding the inflorescence may change colour at various times of the year, and often redden with age (3). The male plant possesses large, bright yellow flowerheads, while the female flowerhead is equally attractive, with a shiny maroon colour. The fruit of the spicy conebush is a large, hard nut that grows on a tough, woody cone (2).  

The spicy conebush is endemic to the Western Cape of South Africa, where it grows in fragmented populations (2).

Like all species of the Leucadendron genus, the spicy conebush is found in the Cape Floristic Region, where it forms part of the fynbos shrubland (3). It is most abundant on well-drained, sandstone soils or shale on the plains, and lower slopes of several mountain ranges, between 20 and 300 metres above sea level (2). 

The spicy conebush is a dioecious perennial plant that flowers between July and August (2) (4). Bees, wasps and flies are attracted by the sweet, sugar-rich nectar, strong spicy sent and the conspicuously coloured bracts, and are the main pollinators (4). Unlike other Leucadendron species, the anthers protrude from the centre of the flower, ensuring pollen is passed to visiting insects (2). Around four months after pollination, the ripe seeds drop to the ground, where they are typically collected and stored in burrows by small rodents. This type of seed dispersal is unusual for a fynbos shrub, as normally the seeds are dispersed by the wind, and although many seeds will be consumed by the rodents, a large number will survive (2) (5). The seeds will be stimulated to germinate by the changes in temperature, pH and oxygen levels that follow natural fires. This behaviour serves to protect the seeds from fires, which may kill much of the above-ground vegetation, allowing the young plants to thrive in open, less competitive areas, in the fires wake (2). 

Rare throughout much of its range, with highly fragmented populations, the spicy conebush is listed as Near Threatened on the Red List of South African Plants (6) (7).  The main threat to this plant is unnatural fire regimes altering the timing of its reproduction. As this species is reliant upon fires stimulating the stored seeds to germinate, changes in the timing and intensity of fires can cause fluctuations in reproduction success. This is particularly problematic for the spicy conebush, as many populations are small, meaning any variation in the number of new plants at each site can greatly increase its risk of extinction. The spicy conebush is further threatened by climate change as it is particularly vulnerable to droughts, which could be expected to increase in frequency as the climate becomes more variable (8).   

The spicy conebush is restricted to the botanically rich habitat of the Cape Floristic Region where conservation is now a high priority. Conservation measures currently being undertaken in the region include the restoration of the landscape to its natural state, through the burning and cutting of non-native plants, and the purchasing of land to protect against the threats of encroaching urban development and agriculture (9) (10).  More than half of the spicy conebush’s population lies within reserves, perhaps offering this vulnerable species some protection from the range of threats it faces. However, to mitigate some of these threats, conservation measures are required, with the implementation of ex-situ conservation, such as seed-banking, a priority (8).

For more information on the Cape Floristic Region and its conservation, see:

For more information on African plants, see:

Authenticated (27/05/2010) by Lize von Staden, Red List Scientist, Threatened Species Programme, South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria, South Africa.

  1. ZipcodeZoo (January, 2010)
  2. PlantZ Africa (January, 2010)
  3. Manning, J. (2007) Field Guide to Fynbos. Struik, South Africa.
  4. SANBI’s Integrated Biodiversity Information System (January, 2010)
  5. Midgley, J.J., Anderson, B.B.A. and Flemming, T. (2002) Scatter-hoarding of Cape Proteaceae nuts by rodents. Evolutionary Ecology Research, 4: 623-626.
  6. Protea Atlas Project (January, 2010)
  7. Raimondo, D., Von Staden, L., Foden, W., Victor, J.E., Helme, N.A., Turner, R.C., Kamundi, D.A. and Manyama, P.A. (2009) Red List of South African Plants. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
  8. von Staden, L. (2010) Pers. comm.
  9. Cowling, R. and Richardson, D. (1995) Fynbos: South Africa’s unique floral kingdom. Fernwood Press, South Africa.
  10. Fauna and Flora International (January, 2010)