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Identifying Pincushions - Leucospermum

The genus Leucospermum is most easily identified by the long styles which protrude from the inflorescence, creating the impression of a pincushion. The inflorescences are axillary, never terminal, and the involucral bracts are small and inconspicuous. The three outer perianth segments are partly fused to form a tube at the bottom of the flower, while the forth segment is mostly free and often elongated. The leaves may have a many-toothed apex: virtually all Proteaceae with more than three glandular teeth to the leaves are pincushions. These teeth are apparently nectaries, but their function is unknown.

The hairs on Leucospermum leaves are of two types: long, thin hairs (trichomes) which occur in all other local Proteaceae genera, and short, curly hairs which are confined to pincushions. These curly hairs give the leaves the appearance of being covered by a thin layer of white or grey wool which can be rubbed off.

Care is needed to distinguish Leucospermum from Diastella and Vexatorella, but the axillary inflorescences, inconspicuous involucral bracts and the partly fused outer three perianth segments are unique to the Pincushions. With the exception of the Flat-, Louse- and Sandveld- Pincushions, Pincushions have large inflorescences which cannot be confused with either the Vexators or the Silkypuffs.

Four major groups of Leucospermum can be immediately recognized:

Various subgenera: species with larger, bird-pollinated inflorescences with all four perianth lobes fused at the tips below the anthers.

LEUCOSPERMUM: species with medium-sized, yellow, insect-pollinated inflorescences with three perianth lobes fused below the anthers and one free.

HAMATUM: species with small, few-flowered heads resembling grappling irons. Creeping along ground pretending to be Sourfigs (Carpobrotus).

DIASTELLOIDEA: species with small, insect-pollinated inflorescences. All four perianth lobes are free at the tips and curl back to resemble four small lice.

CRINITAE: species with flat-topped inflorescences, pollinated by both insects and birds. The perianth does not curl back after opening.

Pollen presenters, leaf shape and number of teeth, involucral bracts and plant growth form are most often used in identifying the different species. With experience most Pincushions can be identified by their leaves alone.


1. Styles greater than 35 mm long, occasionally only 30 mm long in some plants goto 1

1' Styles 10-35 mm long, seldom exceeding 30 mm in length goto 6

2. Styles less than 70 mm long & involucral bracts lanceolate to oval in shape, tightly pressed against the stalk & overlapping like tiles, pollen presenter parallel to style goto 3

2' Styles either greater than 70 mm long, or if shorter, then involucral bracts linear in shape and untidily loosely arranged, pollen presenter may be curved at right angles to style goto section CARDINISTYLE

3. Involucral receptacle conical in shape tapering to a pointed tip goto 4

3' Involucral receptacle narrowly cylindric in shape with parallel sides and a rounded tip goto section CRASSICAUDEX

4. Perianth tube cylindric in shape, with a uniform diam. goto 5

4' Perianth tube narrow at base becoming wider towards tips goto section TUMIDITUBUS

5. Pollen presenters conic, tapering to the tip and ending in a point, erect rounded tree-like shrubs with a single stout (50-400 mm) main trunk goto section CONOCARPODENDRON

5' Pollen presenters ovoid, obliquely ovoid or hoof-shaped, anthers attached to perianth lobes with a 1-2 mm long stalk goto section BREVIFILAMENTUM

6. Involucral receptacle conic, tapering to a point at the tip, leaves with one or more teeth at the apex goto 7

6' Involucral receptacle with a flat top, leaves with 2-20 teeth, styles filiform, inflorescences changing from green-yellow to orange-crimson with age goto section CRINITAE

7. Inflorescence with more than 10 flowers, no bumps on style goto 8

7' Inflorescence minute with 4-7 flowers, style strongly curved inwards with bumps on the lower end goto section HAMATUM

8. Leaves entire with no teeth and styles always shorter than 30 mm goto 9

8' Leaves with 2 or more teeth, or if single toothed then style 30-35 mm long goto 10

9. Styles very strongly curved to centre of inflorescence, knee bent at junction with pollen presenter, and heart-shaped leaves goto section BREVIFILAMENTUM

9' Styles straight or weakly curved, pollen presenter and style junction not knee bent goto section DIASTELLOIDEA

10. Leaves hairless or apparently hairless goto 11

10' Leaves canescent (grey or white in colour), with a dense, greyish, crisped indumentum (covered with short curly hairs) goto section LEUCOSPERMUM

11. Stems prostrate, some leaves usually secund (twisting round the stem to point upwards), or if stems erect then involucral receptacle flattened or globose goto 12

11' Stems erect, leaves ascending (pointing upwards), loosely overlapping like tiles, involucral receptacle conic or conic depressed, never globose goto section TUMIDITUBUS

12. Pollen presenter conic ovoid, branches arising from a large underground rootstock goto section LEUCOSPERMUM

12' Pollen presenter cylindric obtuse to club-shaped, plants with a single stem goto section DIASTELLOIDEA

Section CRASSICAUDEX: The Cylindric Pincushions

The Cylindric Pincushions are characterized by the cylindric shape of the involucral receptacle. They include, in addition to the widespread Wart-stemmed Pincushion, all the species found outside the Cape Floral Kingdom. All species are erect, multiple-stemmed shrubs with a woody underground rootstock and with variable wedge-shaped leaves.

Leucospermum saxosum ESCARPMENT PINCUSHION
Leaves oblanceolate-wedge-shaped to elliptic, base narrow to stalked, apex usually with 3-6 teeth. Perianth with a funnel-shaped 6 mm long tube. Pollen presenter narrowly conic acute, scarcely distinct from the style.

Warts and pustules present on the bases of the stems. A resprouter.

Leucospermum innovans TRANSKEI PINCUSHION
Slender (5 mm diam.) stems. Leaves very broadly wedge-shaped to obovate, with a distinct stalk. Perianth tube swollen at base, but narrow at the top.

Leucospermum gerrardii SOBOLIFEROUS PINCUSHIO
A dwarf shrub, with underground stems in addition to the woody rootstock, and producing erect stems seldom exceeding 0,4 m tall, giving a cushion appearance. Leaves linear to oblanceolate with raised veins.

Section CONOCARPODENDRON: The Tree Pincushions

The Tree Pincushions are characterized by their tree-like growth habit, reaching 4 m tall, with a single thick basal trunk. The involucral receptacle is conic to narrowly conic-acute in shape and bears stout, rigid, 50-60 mm long styles with a conic-acute pollen presenter, ending in a sharp tip. The involucral bracts are acuminate or acuminate-recurved.

Leucospermum conocarpodendron conocarpodendron HAIRY TREE-PINCUSHION KREUPELHOUT
Leaves covered with a dense layer of minute woolly hairs, grey-silver. Involucral bracts ovate acuminate.

Leucospermum conocarpodendron veridum HAIRLESS TREE-PINCUSHION GOUDBOOM
Leaves deep green in colour, without minute woolly hairs, occ. edges hairy. Involucral bracts ovate acuminate.

Mature stems hairless. Leaves subsessile, hairless, obovate to broadly obovate, with 7-14 teeth apically. Involucral bracts acuminate, recurved apically.

Leucospermum pluridens ROBINSON TREE-PINCUSHION
Mature stems covered in dense crispy hairs. Involucral bracts acuminate, with very long (20mm) recurved tips.

Section TUMIDITUBUS: The Wide-tubed Pincushions

The Wide-tubed Pincushions are characterized by their conic or conic depressed involucral receptacle, with a at base narrow perianth tube which widens towards the upper end. All are erect or sprawling shrubs with a single main stem. Leaf shape and number of teeth, pollen presenter shape, style length are used to distinguish the species of wide-tubed pincushions .

Leucospermum praecox MOSSELBAY PINCUSHION
Leaves obovate to wedge-shaped, 5-11 toothed at apex. Perianth short haired. Style 38-48 mm long. Pollen presenter narrowly conic acute.

Leucospermum fulgens POTBERG PINCUSHION
Leaves oblanceolate to oblong, 2-4 toothed at apex, hairy initially aging to hairless. Perianth hairless at base long haired distally. Style 46-53 mm long.

Leucospermum truncatum LIMESTONE PINCUSHION
Leaves oblanceolate to narrowly wedge-shaped, 8-15 mm wide. Perianth hairy. Pollen presenter cylindric obtuse to club-shaped.

BLOUKOOLHOUD Leaves wedge-shaped to wedge-shaped-linear, 4-10 mm wide. Inflorescences 20-30 mm diam., globose. Perianth with sparse minute hairs distally.

Leucospermum erubescens LANGEBERG PINCUSHION
Inflorescences with a distinct junction with the head, slightly asymmetrical, with a 20-30 mm long stalk.

Leucospermum utriculosum BREEDERIVER PINCUSHION
Lax shrub with horizontal spreading branches. Perianth pouched, with long silky hairs. Pollen presenter conic ovoid.

Leucospermum spathulatum CEDERBERG PINCUSHION
Prostrate to sprawling, forming dense mats to 3 m diam. Leaves obovate to spathulate, subsecund, silvery, soft haired, 14-30 mm long. Style 30-40 mm long, tip bent sharply inwards.

Leucospermum profugum PIKETBERG PINCUSHION
A decumbent trailing shrub, with an exposed woody rootstock. Leaves oblanceolate to obovate, 29-55 mm long, 6-18 mm wide, hairless, soft-haired when young, apex rounded to truncate with 3-4 teeth. Style 45-62 mm long.

Section BREVIFILAMENTUM: The Showy Pincushions

The Showy Pincushions are characterized by short anther filaments (1-2 mm long), which attach the anthers to the perianth lobes. Leaves tend to be linear-oblong to elliptic in shape, often with a heart-shaped base. The pollen presenter is ovoid, obliquely ovoid or hoof-shaped. This group includes some of the more popular garden and display pincushions.

Leucospermum vestitum SILKY-HAIRED PINCUSHION
Leaves oblong to elliptic to narrowly ovate, hairless. Involucral bracts membranous and hairless. Pollen presenter obliquely ovoid acute.

Leucospermum tottum ELEGANT PINCUSHION
Leaves lanceolate-acute to oblong-linear. Involucral bracts membranous, hairless with hairy margins. Style curved slightly inwards becoming horizontally spreading with age. Pollen presenter ovoid acute.

Leucospermum lineare NEEDLE-LEAF PINCUSHION
Leaves linear, hairless, flat or slightly channelled.

Single main stem and horizontal drooping branches. Leaves variable in shape and size - smaller and entire towards branch tip. Inflorescences borne at right angles to stem. Pollen presenter hoof-shaped.

A large rounded shrub or tree. Leaves broadly oblong to oblong, apex rounded with 3-8 teeth. Pollen presenter hoof-shaped.

Leucospermum cordatum HEART-LEAF PINCUSHION
A low trailing shrub forming loose mats. Leaves ovate, with a single toothed apex, heart-shaped at base. Style 20-25 mm long, strongly curved inwards near tips. Pollen presenter narrow conic acute, abruptly bent at junction with style.

Section CARDINISTYLE: The Fireworks Pincushions

The Fireworks Pincushions are characterized by their long styles (55-80 mm long) which are hinged and move through 90o during flowering. The pollen presenter is narrowly cylindric with a pointed tip. The involucral receptacle is narrowly conic acute. All six species are large shrubs 2-3 m tall, with a single main stem.

The six species are easily divided into three groups:

  • Pollen presenters bent at right angles to the style
  • Wheel (L.formosum, L.catherinae)
  • Fountain (L.grandiflorum, L.gueinzii, L.praemorsum)
  • Pollen presenter bending downwards during flowering - Rocket (L.reflexum)

Further classification relies on differences in the involucral bracts, but species in each of the groups can readily be distinguished by having leaves which are either green (hairless) or grey (covered by fine curly woolly hairs).

Leucospermum formosum SILVER-LEAF PINCUSHION
Leaves sessile to subsessile, lanceolate elliptic, covered with a dense grey fine crisped hairs, 65-100 mm long.

Leucospermum catherinae CATHERINE PINCUSHION
Leaves oblanceolate-elliptic, 90-135 mm long, 10-25 mm wide, narrowing to a stalked base, apex 3-4 toothed, hairless, green.

Leaves broadly elliptic to elliptic-oblong, 50-80 mm long, apex usually 3-toothed rarely entire, fine crispy haired. Perianth 45-50 mm long, pale greenish-yellow.

Leucospermum gueinzii KLOOF PINCUSHION
Leaves lanceolate acute, 75-100 mm long, usually entire rarely with up to 4 apical teeth. Perianth 55-60 mm long, orange distally.

Leucospermum praemorsum NARDOUW PINCUSHION
Leaves oblong-oblanceolate, with a distinct stalk at base. Involucral bracts loosely arranged, somewhat incurved, narrowly lanceolate-linear, with long spreading silky hairs. Pollen presenter ellipsoid-cylindric.

Leucospermum reflexum ROCKET PINCUSHION
Leaves elliptic to oblanceolate-oblong, 20-55 mm long, 5-13 mm wide, grey, covered with dense crispy hairs. Perianth 40-50 mm long, with a 10 mm long tube curved at right angles at flowering. Style reflexing when open.

Section LEUCOSPERMUM: The Sandveld Pincushions

The Sandveld Pincushions vary in form from erect to sprawling to creeping shrubs. Their leaves have a dense permanent greyish layer of fine crispy hairs and vary in shape from oblanceolate to wedge-shaped to linear. The perianth is usually straight in the bud, always bright yellow and very sweetly scented; three segments are fused at the tips and one is free. The pollen presenter is club-shaped or cylindric in shape.

The Sandveld Pincushions have diversified on the West Coast. Whereas the Widetube Pincushions (which diversified on the South Coast) have subdivided the habitat by parent material and pH, Sandveld Pincushions all grow on Acid Sands derived principally from sandstone and granite.

The Sandveld Pincushions all produce bright yellow, medium-sized flowerheads. The flowers are straight in the bud. The petals are 3-fused and 1-free. In most of the species the leaves are densely covered with a mat of woolly, grey hairs. The flowers are very sweetly scented.

The Sandveld Pincushions have evolved a wide variety of growth habits (by contrast, the Widetube Pincushions are all erect shrubs with a single stem below), and can further be identified by their leaf shapes and involucral bract shapes (in Widetube Pincushions the petal hairiness is very important).

Like all Pincushions, seeds are produced about two months after flowering. Ants carry the seeds to their nests. After eating off the ant-fruit, the hard, round seeds cannot be grasped by the ants. Thus they remain in the nests, safe from fire and rodents. After a fire, the sun heating the soil, and radiation at night cooling the soil, cues the seeds to germinate during the autumn rains. (Vegetation acts as a blanket and keeps the soil temperatures constant, so seeds do not germinate except after a fire).

There are 6 species/subspecies of Sandveld Pincushion, all of which occur on the West Coast – only one species extends beyond the West Coast.

Leucospermum hypophyllocarpodendron hypophyllocarpodendron GREEN SNAKE-PINCUSHION SLANGBOSSIE
A prostrate or rarely suberect shrub. Leaves secund, variable in shape from narrowly oblanceolate or narrowly wedge-shaped, hairless and green. Involucral bracts broadly ovate acute, 5-7 mm wide.

Leucospermum hypophyllocarpodendron canaliculatum GREY SNAKE-PINCUSHION
A prostrate or rarely suberect shrub. Leaves secund, variable in shape from linear-channelled to narrowly oblanceolate or narrowly wedge-shaped, grey, usually permanently grey crisped haired, occasionally aging to hairless. Involucral bracts broadly ovate acute, 5-7 mm wide.

Leucospermum tomentosum SALDANA PINCUSHION
An erect to semi-erect shrub, arising from a persistent rootstock. Leaves linear to linear spathulate, margins involute causing leaves to be channelled. Involucral bracts lanceolate acute, cartilaginous.

Erect to spreading shrubs to 3 m tall. Leaves elliptic to wedge-shaped, 40-65 mm long, 7-15 mm wide, dense crispy haired.

Leaves linear to oblong-linear. Involucral bract ovate acuminate, papery, hairless, red, margins hairy.

Leucospermum arenarium REDELINGHUIS PINCUSHION
Low spreading shrub. Inflorescences 50-70 mm diam. Involucral bracts membranous, apices recurved. Style 30-35 mm long, strongly incurved.

Section DIASTELLOIDEA: The Louse Pincushions

The Louse Pincushions are erect, sprawling or decumbent shrubs usually having acute leaves without teeth at the apex. The inflorescences are small and globose, borne in clusters of 2-6 heads, 10-30 mm in diam. The involucral receptacle is never flat. The style is typically short, 10-25 mm long, with a conic-ovoid, cylindric or club-shaped pollen presenter. The perianth colour varies with age, from cream-white to pink or yellow to orange. All four perianth segments separate and curl back to form four small, round 'lice' (luisies) surrounding each style, a feature shared with some Vexatorella species.

The Riversdale Pincushion is an exception among the Louse Pincushions. It has ovate, multi-toothed leaves and is clearly related to the Flat Pincushions. However, it shares many characteristics of the Louse Pincushions and so has been included in this section.

Leucospermum calligerum COMMON LOUSE PINCUSHION LUISIEBOSSIE Erect to suberect shrub. Leaves grey, hairy, with apex pointed - rarely 2-3 dentate. Pollen presenter conic-ovoid.

Leucospermum wittebergense SWARTBERG PINCUSHION
Leaves crowded and overlapping, dense crispy haired. Style 12-19 mm long. Pollen presenter club-shaped to cylindric-obtuse.

Leucospermum royenifolium EASTERN PINCUSHION
A sprawling semi-erect to prostrate shrub with an exposed rootstock. Mature leaves hairless. Style 13-16 mm long. Pollen presenter cylindric obtuse.

Leucospermum heterophyllum TRIDENT PINCUSHION
Prostrate shrub. Leaves variable, oblanceolate to linear spathulate, mature leaves hairless, young leaves often haired, sessile, twisted, secund, apex usually truncate with three teeth, occasionally single toothed.

Leaves obovate-orbicular to elliptic, densely overlapping, 10-25 mm long, 5-10 mm wide, entire, covered with dense crispy hairs. Involucral bracts papery, forming a distinct cup-shaped involucre. Pollen presenter conic ovoid, distinct from style.

Leucospermum bolusii GORDONSBAY PINCUSHION
Leaves ovate-elliptic, hairless when mature, 25-45 mm long. Involucral bracts ovate acute, membranous, forming cup shaped involucre, hairless, margins ciliate. Perianth cream-white. Pollen presenter conic ovoid.

Leucospermum prostratum YELLOW PINCUSHION
Prostrate plants with long trailing stems. Inflorescences globose, 20-25 mm diam. Perianth bright yellow aging to deep orange.

Leucospermum pedunculatum WHITE PINCUSHION
Exposed erect rootstock 300 mm tall, 150 mm diam. Leaves bright green. Inflorescences usually solitary on short lateral branches, globose, 25-30 mm diam. Perianth cream to white aging to carmine.

Leucospermum secundifolium STALKED PINCUSHION
Leaves stalked, secund, elliptic obtuse, hairless. Inflorescences globose, usually solitary, small. Involucral bracts enlarging to 10 mm long and becoming woody after pollination (as in Vexatorella).

Leucospermum winteri RIVERSDALE PINCUSHION
Leaves broadly wedge-shaped to broadly obovate, 40-70 mm long, 20-45 mm wide, mature leaves hairless, apices incised with 5-14 reddish teeth. Style 20 mm long. Pollen presenter obovoid to club-shaped.

Section HAMATUM: The Hook Pincushion

The Hook Pincushion is characterized by its minute 4-7 flowered inflorescences and the knobby recurved style. The floral bracts are enlarged to form a cup-like false involucre which clasps the perianth segments. This species may be rodent pollinated.

Leucospermum hamatum RUITERSBOS PINCUSHION
Leaves secund, narrowly oblong to oblong-elliptic, with ear-shaped base. Inflorescence turban-shaped, with 4-7 flowers in a single whorl. Style strongly recurved inwards, tapered, granular.

Leucospermum harpagonatum MCGREGOR PINCUSHION
Leaves secund, narrowly oblong to oblong-elliptic with a narrow base. Inflorescence turban-shaped, with 8-12 flowers in a single whorl. Petals with woolly hairs. Style strongly recurved inwards, tapered, granular.

Section CRINITAE: The Flat Pincushions

The Flat Pincushions are a cohesive group of four species, two of which are very variable. Erect or sprawling shrubs, characterized by flat involucral receptacles which shape the 20-40 mm diam turban-shaped inflorescences. The perianth lobes do not curl back after flowering, but remain erect. The filiform styles and perianth undergo conspicuous colour changes with age.

Leucospermum oleifolium OVERBERG PINCUSHION
Leaves variable, lanceolate-acute to oblong to ovate, generally entire or with 2-5 teeth. Involucral bracts ovate-acute to lanceolate-acuminate, membranous to papery.

Leucospermum mundii LANGEBERG PINCUSHION
Leaves broadly wedge-shaped to broadly ovate, margin incised by 7-17 teeth.

Leucospermum gracile HERMANUS PINCUSHION
Low sprawling shrub. Leaves oblong linear, obtuse to truncate at base, 2-5 mm wide. Floral bracts oblanceolate, rounded-pointed apex. Perianth yellow.

Leucospermum saxatile KAROO PINCUSHION
Leaves linear to narrowly wedge-shaped, margins often curved inwards. Floral bracts lanceolate, apex thinning to a point. Perianth lime green.

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