Red Pincushion Protea (Leucospermum cordifolium)

Red Pincushion Protea (Leucospermum cordifolium) Full Stem in Vase

At left is one of my [many] favorite flowers.

If I’m not mistaken in my specificity, it is the Red Pincushion Protea (Leucospermum cordifolium), a flower native to Southern Africa.

The red pincushion flower is generally available year round as it is a long-lasting, woody stemmed, bloom that is apparently quite easy to cultivate in a hothouse environment.

In general, I’m trying to keep our house with at least one random bouquet of fresh flowers in a prominent area at all times. With our local farmer’s market, this has proven to be quite easy and, given California’s climate, there is always some locally grown bloom to be had.

But, I do like to occasionally mix things up with a bit of a bloom from something grown on other than this hemisphere. Fortunately, there is one vendor at the farmer’s market that has the occasional bit of imported oddity and, thus, I brought home a red pincushion for the first time in a long, long time.

I first met this particular flower when we lived near the corner of North, Milwaukee and Damen in Chicago. Yes, a six-way intersection. One of said corners was an amazing florist shop that continually stocked random exotica as if it were roses.

The blossoms are simply fascinating. Inordinately complex with thousands of little bits all arching together to form an almost alien like bloom.

In the photo at left, the blossoms are illuminated by bright sunlight streaming in through our kitchen skylight.

Perfect light with an interesting flower sounds like a great combination for a bit of a photo study….

Fuzzy Flower

In this photo, the complexity of the bloom is revealed.

The bloom is composed of hundreds of little loops of stalk, each ending in a combination of hairy bits, fleshy bits, and/or little yellow bits covered in pollen.

Looking at this bloom, I have to wonder what the natural pollinator might be. Given the size of the flower and how tough the blooms are — this is no fragile iris! — I could imagine a hummingbird or some large moth being the pollinating agent.

In any case, that hairy bit in the middle looks interesting.

Red Pincushion Protea (Leucospermum cordifolium) Blossom Detail

Moving in a little more closely reveals the awesomely complex structure of the flower. Each little floret is composed of a round stalk that arches over with a very fuzzy tip.

But not all of the florets are made the same! It wasn’t until I looked at this picture that I realized that there is some yellow bits in there, too! While this photo series was focused on the central hairy bits, I’m going to have to take some side macros, too, it would seem.

The aspect ratio of this photo should look familiar to any MacBook Pro user. It is the same as the screen specifically because I thought it would make a great desktop image.

Red Pincushion Protea (Leucospermum cordifolium) Center Detail

At this point, the red pincushion is starting to look less like a flower and more like a carnivorous critter one might find on a reef somewhere.

The hairs look sharp.

The whole thing looks like a critter might climb in but never come out.

But it is actually a surprisingly soft blossom. Pliable and waxy, yet it maintains the fragility of its more traditional petaled brethren.

Red Pincushion Protea (Leucospermum cordifolium) Hairy Refractory

Still, the hairs look rather sinister and quite thoroughly needle sharp.

However, this photo gives away there relative fragility. It is illuminated by pure sunlight and, thus, the bands of refraction indicate just how small these hairs really are.

Red Pincushion Protea (Leucospermum cordifolium) Detail with Water Droplet

Often a hairy plant uses the hair to capture water.

Certainly, this tiny water drop (the pictured drop was just a bit larger than the head of a pin) has been nicely gathered together and preserved by the flower’s hairy bits.

But why on a blossom? Most flowers really do nothing for the core plant outside of the all important role of species propagation.

I know nothing about the pincushion’s native habitat beyond the general location on the globe. Given that ignorance, I could easily imagine that the Pincushion’s pollinators might be attracted to the water captured by the blossom.

That seems like a viable pollination strategy; provide your pollinators with an oasis in an otherwise arid land?

In any case, the red pincushion is certainly an exquisite bit of natural architecture!!

The first four photos were taken with the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens and the second two with the Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5X Macro lens (that I had written about previously). All photos were taken in direct sunlight passed through a UV filtering skylight.

10 Responses to “Red Pincushion Protea (Leucospermum cordifolium)”

  1. Mike says:

    Ah, you lived right by the Double Door! That infamous intersection is nasty.

    The pics are nice. I take it you used the MP-E 65mm for these?

  2. annbb says:

    Wonderful photos. And it certainly does morph into a carnivorous-looking creature!

  3. bbum says:

    @Mike We lived at that particular intersection after the gentrification had began but before MTV ruined it with one of their stupid reality shows. It was actually a really nice neighborhood. Gritty, certainly, but with some amazing restaurants (Soul Kitchen, Absinthe, the corner dog place :), bars (Lemmings, Map Room, place that begins with an A that was a beatnik bar in the ’60s), and the L was right there. Felt a lot like New York City, only a heck of a lot quieter at night. Only heard gunshots once and that was, apparently, someone doing a poor job putting their dog down.

  4. Mike says:

    You made me realize my previous comment was vague. I meant the traffic at that intersection is nasty; I didn’t mean the neighborhood itself. It’s definitely a fun part of town as long as you can ignore or tolerate the annoying hipsters that are all over the neighborhood these days. And yes, MTV did a season of The Real World in that neighborhood, and I’ve read that the neighbors didn’t take too kindly to their presence, which resulted in MTV not showing too many exterior shots of the house due to protestors, signage and whatnot.

    I have yet to visit NYC, but it’s cool to know that part of town reminds you of that city.

  5. bbum says:

    Wasn’t that vague — if we had lived there just two years before, it was quite the crack haven with a lot of gang activity. That still existed but had been pushed further S-SE from the 6 way intersection. I have run into people that were completely aghast to hear we lived there until they realized it was no longer the same den of nastiness they remembered!

    Unfortunately, Google street view reveals that some random bank took over where the florist was at that corner. it was truly an awesome place. Beyond exotic flowers all the time, they also sold pure flower essence extracts. My favorite was lily of the valley at about a 100x concentration.

  6. VogonPoet says:

    The Red Pincushion Protea is part of the Western Cape (South Africa) Fynbos floral kingdom. Fynbos is quite fascinating. It is the smallest of the world’s six floral kingdoms (Phytochorion), but also the most diverse per unit area: Over 9000 species in in an area about 46,000 km² in size.

  7. corbin says:

    Hey bill, you should visit the arboretum at UCSC in a month or so; the flowers grow outside there, and are quite cool to look at.

    Some pics I snapped last year:

    My dad also used to grow pincushions and other proteas at our house in corralitos (Santa Cruz county). Most did quite well in the climate, but some died off during heavy frosts. I hope to eventually grow some of my own at my house in Los Gatos. Add it to my list of hobbies 🙂


  8. Timothy Mills says:

    I love all the Protea variations. I first found them when we lived in Evanston in the late 80s and early 90s. There was a florist/flower shop called Flowers, Flowers that carried all sorts of interesting and non-traditional flowers. They opened a second shop in Chicago, but I don’t recall where it was located. Was this the shop where you first found Protea?

  9. jim wardle says:

    Some sourses say not to usse any Potash fertilizers on Proteas, whats your opionion.

  10. chicago signs says:

    I actually live near that intersection right now and it’s a pretty decent area, though overrun with hipsters. But there are a lot of good bars and food places too. There’s a florist near that corner and at first I thought that’s the one you were referring to until I read that you saw it was closed. I wonder if it’s possible they simply moved a few doors down North Ave? Also about a year ago I bought some of these Proteas downtown near the Sears tower. There was a farmer’s market going on there at the time and I really liked the Proteas when I saw them but had forgotten what they were called so I was really glad to have found this post.

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