Gardens and Plants
Plant Lust: Leucadendrons
The boldest, most-exotic, biggest-bang-for-the-buck group of shrubs we can grow in our area come from the protea family (“Proteaceae“), and one of that family’s best subsets is the South African genus Leucadendron.
We just love leucadendrons in the landscape! Colorful, evergreen, beautifully structured, fast-growing, they’re easy to mix into designs in containers or in the ground. Follow a few guidelines and they’re no harder to grow than – and can grow well with – our native manzanitas.
They thrive in poor, well-drained soils, which are common in San Francisco (especially on the sandy west side of the city), they love our pesky summer winds, they prefer our mild, moist winters and dry summers, and some of them even tolerate immediate coastal conditions. So much to love.
In return, they ask that we refrain from applying fertilizer with phosphorus and potassium, avoid planting them in heavy, rich, summer-moist soil, keep them in sun or part-sun exposure, and protect them from sharp frosts.
ABOVE: Leucadendrons produce a range of foliage textures and colors, yet the effect across them is always structured and elegant. So often the tips of the stems feature the best color display; the fuzzy rose, olive, and silver leaves of this Leucadendron ‘Jubilee Crown’ bring us a serene pleasure. This variety reaches a maximum of six feet in height.
ABOVE: The upper photo portrays the hardy and flamboyant horticultural selection ‘Jester’ (AKA ‘Safari Sunshine’); it reaches six-feet-tall. The lower shot captures the finicky and tender and surreal silvertree from Cape Town’s famous Table Mountain, Leucadendron argenteum. It’s a real tree, reaching 20-30 feet, and well-worth gambling on in a cool, minimally frosty garden despite its short life (30 years max) in cultivation.
ABOVE: Hardy and low-growing Leucadendron salignum ‘Winter Red’ in the upper photo keeps a good red much of the year that perks up in winter. ‘Summer Red’, in the lower photo, delivers its color, you guessed it, in summer! The parent species of these selections is the most widespread and one of the most adaptable in the leucadendron genus, staying at three-to-five-feet tall.
If you have heavy, rich soil, use them in containers (we love them in containers!), or find the steepest, rockiest spots in the sunshine for them. There are far too few leucadendrons in our gardens. Let’s get planting!