Common Sunshine Conebush
Derivation of Official Common Names
The "Conebush" genus is characterized by the cones they bear. "Sunshine" a group of Conebushes noted for the bright yellow or red colours they adopt during winter when they flower. "Common" the most common species of Sunshine Conebush, but also the most common protea in the country, and also one of the most widespread, occurring throughtout the Cape Floral Kingdom. Knoppiesgeelbos ("bearing cones", "yellow bush" as for the English names).
Other (past) Latin Names
adscendens (erect -stems), argentea (silver -cones), conifera (bearing cones), diversifolia (varied leaves), frondosum (full of leaves), humifusum (sprawling on the ground - habit), involucratum (with a cup of leaves - flowerhead), nudiflorum (hairless flowers), pallens (pale -leaves), virgatum (branchy - habit). As can be seen from all the past scientific names, this is a complicated and varied species.
Other common names:
Adscendens (this is the trade name in the cut flower trade, based on the Latin name used in the 1950s), Clustered Euryspermum (a name coined by Richard Salisbury in 1809, and not used since), Common Yellowbush, Goldentips, Goldtips, Goldtops Conebush (the last four names are still used in the cut-flower trade), Incisum (an old trade name, but origin unknown), Mini-tulip Conebush, Nestflower Conebush (the last two referring to the cup of bracts around the flowerhead in the female), Red Adscendens,Trailing Euryspermum(another Salisbury common name), Asbos, Geelbos, Rooibos (referring to leaf colours grey, yellow, red), Knopbos, , Tolbos (referring to the cones or "tops"), Kraaltolbos (why Paddock-Top-bush is unknown).
From Nieuwoudtville in the north to Grahamstown in the east on every mountain and valley in the Cape Floral Kingdom in which Fynbos vegetation occurs. Widespread in all except the wettest Fynbos sites, also occurring in Renosterveld if wet enough.
The plant has no known herbal or medicinal uses like all proteas they are relatively free of aromatic chemicals. Being woody and filled with tannin, they are of no culinary use. The flowerheads and cones are used in the cut flower trade, as their many trade names indicate. Some hybrids of the Common Sunshine Conebush have given rise to the cultivars Safari Sunset (developed in New Zealand) and Sylvan Red. These two cultivars are the most sought after cut flower protea, as well as the most widely planted protea in the commercial wild-flower trade, being grown in New Zealand, Australia, Zimbabwe, Hawaii, California, Israel and France, in addition to the Cape.
The plants flower from April to November, but in any one place flowering lasts for only a few weeks. The sexes are separate, with male bushes and female bushes. Pollination is by small beetles, the most prominent being Pria cinerascens, a small black beetle. Male flowerheads are visited mainly for their pollen but also their nectar. Female flowerheads lack pollen and have only a little nectar, so are probably visited by "mistake". On the other hand, female flowerheads, with their cup of involucral bracts, provide a safe bourdoir for overnighting. The seeds take several months to ripen, during which time the floral bracts expand to form cones. The fruit are then stored in these cones for release after a fire. However, predation of cones (by larvae of beetles and moths), results in most seeds being liberated after two or three years on the bush in the absence of fire. The fruit are flat and when released paraglide in the wind until they get caught in the remains of plants or hit the ground. Fruit blow on the ground too, and tend to lodge in piles of ash against dead stems and brush. The black fruit are ideally camouflaged against this black ash. Germination occurs after the first substantial winter rains. This means that summer and autumn fires are ideal. Spring fires result in the fruit laying around all summer so that most are eaten by birds and mice before the rains. After germinating, any seedlings which have not established a deep tap root down to the water table by the beginning of summer will die of drought. Fruit dropped onto the ground when there is no fire will not be camouflaged, will stand a high chance of being eaten by mice (fire kills or chases them away) and will not be able to reach the water table before summer (due to competition with the other living plants).
As in most proteas, the "flower" colour (really the colour of the leaves around the flowerhead) is very variable. Typically yellow, but in some places such as the Cold Bokkeveld beautiful crimson predominates. In other areas green forms also occur. Sometimes the different color forms occur together, much like there being blue- and brown-eyed people.
This species owes its ubiquity to its habit of surviving fires by regrowing from an underground rootstock. As a consequence it produces far less fruit than most other Conebushes (which are killed by fire), but it means that plants we see may be hundreds of years old. A consequence of this is that the plants can be heavily picked or pruned and will produce new, long sturdy shoots from the rootstock. In veld that gets too old the plants get overshadowed by other Fynbos plants and this is a major cause of death. The Common Sunshine Conebush is at its best in frequently burned veld, when it may come to dominate the vegetation and provide large splashes of "Sunshine" in winter.
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