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Phloeonomus looks at Plant Ages

Growing up: branchings tell a Proteas age

How can you tell how old a protea is?

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A fairly reliable estimate of age can be made for non-resprouting species by counting the number of branching events. Flowering normally only occurs once a year per branch - partly because seeds take 2-9 months to develop to maturity. Branching usually takes place from beneath old seedheads, often starting when the flowerhead is still a bud. By contrast, several growth flushes (without any branching) may occur every year. Thus by counting the number of branching events (or flowerheads!) along a branch to the stem base, one can obtain a good estimate of the age of the plant since it began flowering. By adding 3-4 years (in wet areas) or 5-6 years (in very dry areas), to account for the years spent growing before flowering, one can obtain a good estimate of plant age. In theory this should work for all Proteaceae with terminal heads, and indeed, even for pincushions. In practice, different species in the same stand may give different ages, so be aware that your estimate may be out by a few years.


Make notes on the year in which you planted the proteas in your protea garden, and how old they probably were when you planted them. Get your scholars to count up the number of seedheads (on those bushes which keep the seedheads on the plant) starting from any branch tip and following the branch to the base. For plants which do not store the seedheads, count the number of times the stems branch (not the number of branches per branching event) from a branch tip down to the base of the plant.

Is the age obtained correct?
Do all branches on a bush give the same age? Knowing how old a bush is, work out a strategy to tell the age of other bushes.
Do all species reveal their age? Suggest why species are slightly out.
Do all branchings have flowerheads? Why not?

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