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Phloeonomus looks at Compass Flowers

Compass Flowers Show the Way

You need never be lost in the mountains. All you need to do is look at a protea flowerhead - it will tell you where north is!

All animals and plants work faster when warm. So do flower heads. Because it is warmest during midday flower heads grow fastest on their north sides in South Africa. With most plants one cannot detect this. But protea, pincushion or conebush heads last for several weeks, so that their the hottest side will be noticeably faster at opening than the other sides. Even then, the effect is only seen at certain stages. Still a quick look around any protea patch and many heads (flower heads of course) will tell you which way is north. Protea Atlas Logo

See if you can tell where north is by looking at the below flowerhead.

The Pincushion - Photo: Nigel Forshaw
The Pincushion - Leucospermum cordifolium

Be aware though that in some places the warmest spot might not be north. Plants on south-facing cliffs may open up to the northwest or northeast, but you will still quickly find your bearings.

Personally, I like to move around in my cosy little protea home. In the morning I feed in the East Wing, where the warm rising sun quickly warms up my room. Mid-morning I'm usually on the north side, but on very hot days I prefer to go for a short fly around, or if I feel lazy I'll retire to the South Basement where it is coolest. During the afternoons I can get a few extra hours of playing in the West Wing. At night I usually burrow down to the centre of the head where it stays warm for the longest period. Yes, you will usually find me and my mates in those proteas which have the woolliest flowers which do not collapse after they have opened: they keep warm and stop the sugarbirds from seeing us.

Why don't you look out for me in your proteas? Sometimes I'm in the East Wing or the West Attic or the South Basement - it all depends on where the coziest place in my home is. But please remember not to break my home - you can look in gently and not disturb me too much. Don't be like those horrid Sugarbirds that come to eat me. If it was not for the mites which climb onto them when they visit my house, I think I would move to another species of flower head. But then, where could I find a nice cosy and warm head with lots of nectar, pollen and a snug woolly blanked: No I think I'll stay here and have a little snooze.


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