One of the plants being preparing for the winter chill last week was this Leucadendron “Safari Sunset”. It weathered last winter quite well and even flowered for us. I am hoping it will do similarly this year especially as I haven’t been able to propagate it, so no back ups in the bank I’m afraid. This evergreen shrub, which in ideal conditions will grow to 8ft, is a hybrid of L. laureolum and L. salignum and was developed in New Zealand in the 1960’s. It is a great winter interest plant with red stems and reddish leaves, although I have seen photographs of this plant looking vibrantly scarlet I presume this is a combination of camera exaggeration and the short period of direct sunlight in our garden.
The genus Leucadendron comes from South Africa and is a member of the exotic and desirable family Proteaceae. It is a tricky customer as it has very specific growing conditions. It is marginally frost hardy, dislikes too much wet and enjoys an acid soil. So far so good. The main problem however, is that like most plants in this family, it dislikes phosphorus. In order to survive in poor nutrient, especially phosphorus, deficient soils these plants have evolved ingenious proteoid roots. These seasonally developed roots reach up into the top layer allowing extra surface area which ensures optimum water and nutrient extraction. This adaption has left it particularly sensitive and as phosphorus is one of the main elements in many fertilisers, these should be avoided. Luckily we don’t use much in the way of fertilisers in the garden, preferring to improve the soil quality.