Sun conebush (Leucadendron sessile)

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Male sun conebush flowering in winter
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Sun conebush fact file

Sun conebush description

KingdomPlantae
PhylumTracheophyta
ClassMagnoliopsida
OrderProteales
FamilyProteaceae
GenusLeucadendron (1)

With its dazzling, bright yellow, sun-like inflorescences, the sun conebush is an attractive sight on the mountainous slopes of the Western Cape, South Africa. The sun conebush is a medium sized, shrubby bush, arising from a singe stem, with narrow, tear-drop shaped leaves. In common with other Leucadendron species, when the sun conebush is in flower, the leaves surrounding the inflorescence may change colour, and often redden with age (2). The flowerheads are a flattened circular shape, with an inward spiralling pattern.  Male plants are distinguished from females by brighter and larger flowerheads, while the female flowers are lemon scented, and have large conspicuous, purplish brown bracts (2) (3). The fruit of the sun conebush is a large, hard nut that grows on a tough, woody cone (2).      

Also known as
baby-rosette conebush, mini-pompom conebush, venosum, western conebush.
Size
Height: 1 – 2 m (2)
Male leaf length: up to 64 mm (2)
Female leaf length: up to 80 mm (2)
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Sun conebush biology

The sun conebush is a perennial plant that flowers between July and August (2) (4). The flowers of both sexes possess identical floral parts, but in the female flower, the male sexual organs, the stamens, are sterile, and in the male flower, the female sexual organ, the gynoecium, is sterile.  Beetles, wasps and bees, which are attracted by the sweet, sugar-rich nectar, are the main pollinators (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).  

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Sun conebush range

The sun conebush is endemic to the Western Cape of South Africa, where it grows on the slopes of several mountain ranges, between 10 and 600 metres above sea level (2).

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Sun conebush habitat

Like all Leucadendron species, the sun conebush is found in the Cape Floristic Region, where it forms part of the fynbos shrubland (3). It prefers middle slopes and flats on granitic soils, although it also occurs and sandstone and shale, in areas with relatively high levels of rainfall (2).

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Sun conebush status

This species has not yet been classified by the IUCN.

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Sun conebush threats

With dense stands of the sun conebush remaining throughout much of its range, the sun conebush is not currently threatened with extinction. However, the species is listed as Near Threatened on the Red List of South African Plants, as extensive areas of fynbos shrubland have been lost to urbanisation, and agricultural and timber plantations (2) (6). This species is also threatened by an increasing frequency of fires, as although the sun conebush relies upon fires to stimulate the stored seeds to germinate, if the fires kill the plants before they mature, the soil seed-bank may become depleted and populations will fail to replenish (7). In addition, the sun conebush is further threatened by alien invasive plants, which increase competition for natural resources (2) (8).

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Sun conebush conservation

Although abundant in favourable habitat, the sun conebush is restricted to the botanically rich habitat of the Cape Floristic Region where conservation is now a high priority (8) (9). Around 70 percent of the species’ population is protected in reserves, and conservation measures currently being undertaken within its range 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 (7) (8) (9). This species would also benefit from public education exercises that highlight the negative impact that unnatural fires have upond fynbos plants (7).

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Find out more

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

For more information on African plants, see:

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Authentication

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

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Glossary

Bract
Modified leaf at the base of a flower.
Cape Floristic Region
An area occupying about 90,000 square kilometres in South Africa that contains an incredibly high diversity of plant species (around 8,700 species), of which 68 percent are found no where else.
Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Fynbos
The natural shrubland vegetation occurring in the south-western and southern Cape of South Africa, holding the greatest diversity of plant species in the world. Fynbos is characterised by tall shrubs with large leaves, heath-like shrubs, wiry reed-like plants, and bulbous herbs.
Germinate
The beginning of growth, usually following a period of dormancy and in response to favourable conditions. For example, the sprouting of a seedling from a seed.
Gynoecium
Ovule producing organ of the female flower.
Inflorescence
The reproductive shoot of a plant, which bears a group or cluster of flowers.
Perennial
A plant that normally lives for more than two seasons. After an initial period, the plant produces flowers once a year.
Pollination
The transfer of pollen grains from the stamen (male part of a flower) to the stigma (female part of a flower) of a flowering plant. This usually leads to fertilisation, the development of seeds and, eventually, a new plant.
Pollinators
Animals that in the act of visiting a plant’s flowers transfer pollen grains from the stamen (male part of a flower) to the stigma (female part of a flower) of a flowering plant. This usually leads to fertilisation, the development of seeds and, eventually, a new plant.
Stamens
The male reproductive organs of a flower. Each stamen is comprised of an anther (the pollen-producing organ) and a filament (stalk).
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References

  1. ZipcodeZoo (January, 2010)
    http://www.zipcodezoo.com/
  2. PlantZ Africa (January, 2010)
    http://www.plantzafrica.com/
  3. Manning, J. (2007) Field Guide to Fynbos. Struik, South Africa.
  4. SANBI’s Integrated Biodiversity Information System (January, 2010)
    http://sibis.sanbi.org/
  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. 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.
  7. von Staden, L. (2010) Pers. comm.
  8. Cowling, R. and Richardson, D. (1995) Fynbos: South Africa’s unique floral kingdom. Fernwood Press, South Africa.
  9. Fauna and Flora International (January, 2010)
    http://www.fauna-flora.org/fynbos.php
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Image credit

Male sun conebush flowering in winter  
Male sun conebush flowering in winter

© Colin Paterson-Jones / naturalvisions.co.uk

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